Girl dies and vineyards destroyed as violent storms strike France

Kim Willsher in Paris
Severely damaged vines in Cognac after a hailstorm in the region. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Violent hailstorms hit western France destroying swaths of vineyards and killing a girl out walking with her parents.

The sudden and powerful storms that struck the Bordeaux and Charentais winemaking regions on Saturday took residents by surprise with some describing them as the worst in 30 years.

“I’ve dozens of hectares without a single leaf or shoot left. In the space of 10 to 15 minutes the hail destroyed the whole harvest,” said Didier Gontier, the director of the Côtes de Bourg label, a small appellation that lost its 2017 production to frost. “There are a few shoots left; whether they will grow I can’t say … if I’m honest, I don’t think so.”

The Haut-Médoc region of north Bordeaux and the Cognac-producing vineyards were also affected, as was the Charente Maritime department.

Bernard Farges, vice-president of the Bordeaux winemakers’ body, the Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) told journalists the organisation was taking stock and would release details of the devastation to vineyards on Monday.

Franck Jullion, the president of the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, said his vines, which were expected to flower next week, had been destroyed.

“It’s a scene of desolation … it’s finished for this year. On a human level it’s going to be very hard. Some properties were already hit by the frost and won’t recover,” Jullion said.

Didier Gontier said he was visiting vineyards to assess the damage.

“Not only have we lost the next harvest, but the hail was so violent, growers are telling us there’s no wood left for next year. This will hit us for two years. Some were already victims of the frost in 2017. These are hard blows for us,” Gontier told the Sud Ouest newspaper.

The French government said it would be looking at what compensation might be available to vineyards once the extent of the damage was known.

The deluge saw hailstones the size of cherries in some areas, bringing down trees and causing widespread flash flooding.

Further north in Mayenne, east of the city of Rennes, a six-year-old girl walking in a park with her mother died after she was hit by a falling tree branch.

In Bordeaux, city streets were flooded. The French weather service Météo-France said 22mm of rain fell in six minutes in the city.

A demonstration against Emmanuel Macron’s labour law changes was also cancelled because of the weather.