Wine and the weather
The most talked-about election in the world right now is the run-off for the presidency of France. On Sunday the young, left-leaning upstart Emmanuel Macron will take on the right wing Marine Le Pen in a contest that will determine the direction of the world’s second-largest wine-producing nation.
OK, so I projected my own personal interests into the lede, but what do you expect? This is, after all, a wine column.
As is the case in the U.S. (the third largest wine producer), both candidates have made promises that will be beyond their capabilities to keep. But I have yet to hear either Macron or Le Pen make any promises about controlling the weather. I mean, you might as well go huge. In the French wine region of Burgundy, a national treasure, there is nothing more important than the weather.
THE STORMS OF BURGUNDY
Four of the last five vintages in Burgundy have been subjected to hailstorms that have, in the blink of an eye, destroyed both vines and the financial prospects of winemakers. This is nothing new for Burgundy in particular, or the wine growing regions of France in general. A cynic might say that the storms are simply God’s way of adjusting the supply to stimulate demand.
There must be a way to protect the grapes from the wrath of the weather. This month a group of French winemakers announced the entire Burgundy region will be placed under a high-tech hail shield to protect the vines below. With more than 100,000 acres of vines, that’s no small task.
Netting would be prohibitively expensive, labor intensive and questionably effective. The shield will consist instead of 125 strategically placed ground-to-air generators “that cause tiny particles of silver iodide to rise to the clouds above, where they prevent the formation of hailstones.” That is the way the technology was described by the British newspaper The Telegraph after an interview with Thiebault Huber, president of both the Volnay wine syndicate (or association), and the ARELFA, the association for the study and fight against atmospheric issues.
The generators are placed six miles apart and surround the region’s vineyards. After farmers and winemakers are alerted by a meteorologist, up to four hours prior to the arrival of a predicted storm, they ignite the generators. Each has a combustion chamber that heats an acetone silver iodide solution and releases the particles up to a half-mile into the sky. Smoke from the solution and the ice-forming particles scatter in the storm and, hopefully, reduce the potential for large hail stones. Emissions last until the end of the hail risk period, which averages 10 hours. “The idea is to kill the storm before it arrives and avoid hail forming,” Huber told The Telegraph.
This is sort of the opposite of the cloud seeding that some ski resorts have tested, where they drop the same silver iodide particles into water and clouds in hopes of stimulating snowfall. The theory is the particles will alter the composition of the moisture in the clouds and therefore alter what falls to earth. In the case of the resorts, it is hoped that the moisture coalesces into snowflakes, and in the case of the vineyards the hope is that it dissolves the hail into raindrops.
While the candidates may not make promises about controlling the French weather, at least the winemakers are attempting to Make Burgundy Great Again.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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