By Justin Howard-Sneyd MW - 7th July 2014
The wine producers of Burgundy have once again suffered at the hands of nature, with crops decimated by intense hail storms that wreaked havoc on many vineyards and removed the promise of a bumper year such as that experienced in 2010. Back then the region put corks in around 211 million bottles of wine.
Unfortunately hail is something the growers of this region have come to expect. Similar freak weather conditions hit the region in 2013 and 2012 and now the local government there is looking towards science to prevent it happening again. One option is cloud seeding.
It sounds like something from science fiction but cloud seeding – where silver iodide, or dry ice as it’s more commonly known, is shot into clouds to change ice to water or to disperse the moisture altogether – has been around since the 1940s.
It has been used in a number of places to try to manipulate the weather. It was first used in France to try to minimise the impact of hail on vineyards as long ago as the 1950s and it’s been used in other parts of Europe, Australia, North America, Africa and Asia.
During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it was reported that cloud-seeding was used to ensure there was no rain at the opening and closing ceremonies and, at the sailing events held in Qingdao, it was claimed this technique was used to try to create conditions that would encourage better wind for the sailors.
Although its supporters say it works, there is scepticism about its efficacy plus there are concerns about the wider environmental impact. Another factor that makes this more of a last resort is cost.
What is clear is that for the vineyard owners in Burgundy a hail storm lasting just three minutes such as the one in June, which had massive hail stones that rained down with enormous ferocity, is a disaster. Whether using science can remove the threat of such a thing happening in the future is the answer is hard to say but anything that can supplement the prayers of the growers has got to be a good thing.