La Defense might be in Paris, but winemakers in one of France’s legendary regions are set to install their own defense system. Saint-Émilion approved a space age network of launchers and weather machines that would put Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ program to shame.
More than 90% of Saint-Émilion Wine Council voted in favor to deploy a complex network of radars and automated balloon launchers to fight hail in the wine growing region.
“Hail is one of the most pestful weather hazards for a winemaker. It strikes farms every year, causing significant damage that can go as far as the total loss of the future crop,” explained a statement from the Council.”
“In order to reduce risk, the Conseil des Vins de Saint-Emilion has been working for more than two years on a collective fight against hail at the scale of its 4 appellations Lussac Saint-Emilion, Mayseguin Saint-Emilion and Saint-Emilion Emilion, Saint Emilion Grand Cru.”
Hail is a serious concern in Bordeaux Historic storms in 2009 and 2020 damaged grapes and reduced yields. However, the new system hopes to nip that problem in the bud.
“The result is not 100% guaranteed,” cautioned the Council. “Nevertheless, it is an innovative and effective solution to reduce the impact of hail and thus protect our vines a little more against this scourge.”
The system, designed and built by Selerys, first spots the incoming hail formation through a central radar. This command and control structure then signals winemakers. They, in turn, communicate with some of the 37 stations that will be spread around the 900 vineyards comprising the region.
The substations will automatically inflate and launch balloons carrying 200g of ‘hygroscopic salts’. (The French love ballooning!) The balloons will be remotely steered towards the offending clouds. On command, the salts will be released into the formation. Theoretically, the clouds will consequently drop rain instead of hail.
Phase One rollout is scheduled for June 2021. The producers voted to fund construction via tiered (by appellation) tax system. Fees will range from €43 per hectare to €205 per hectare.