The Herald Bulletin

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October 26, 2013

Howard Hewitt: Winemakers band together after hail destroys vineyard

A great story has long been an awesome ingredient to generating sales and good will. Often we Midwesterners think we have the market cornered on those feel-good, helping-the-neighbor out stories that move people – if not product.But the more you see the world, you come to realize most of us are alike whether we’re from Illinois, Michigan, France, Spain or even Indiana. The story shared here has been repeated throughout the wine world but probably new to most outside that geeky little corner of the universe.

A tremendous hail storm hit Southern France July 1, 2012. The ferocity of the storm destroyed 62 acres of vines at Chateau de Roquefort owned by Raimond de Villeneuve. The storm lasted just seven minutes but devastated his 2012 crop and is expected to cut his 2013 harvest by nearly half.

Hail insurance is pretty rare in grape growing country, particularly in Provence near the Mediterranean Sea. Local growers called the storm a once in every-50-years event.

"It all began at about 7 o’clock in the evening with an unexpected hailstorm of barbaric violence,” Villeneuve is widely reported detailing. “In a mere seven minutes this wall of ice completely devastated everything growing in the vineyard … not a leaf or a single bunch remained; nothing survived the bombardment. I can still see myself running backwards and forwards through the vines, up to my knees at times in streams of hailstones, petrified, blue with cold. Shrouds of white mist were rising from the tons of ice lying on the still warm ground. When I had completed the tour of our 24 hectare of vines, I knew there wouldn’t be the faintest chance of harvesting anything. I knew that time would be required for the vines to recover from such a severe onslaught; I felt like somebody shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere!”

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