Animals and Hail – Two Unexpected Threats to the Italian Wine Industry

The Italian wine industry thrives because of the hard work of the many hundreds of producers who pour their hearts and souls into every single bottle that they create. These producers are the backbone of the Italian wine economy, with their efforts being the reason why the country is so highly regarded when it comes to wine.

Unfortunately, even the best producers can’t do a thing about some of the many issues that can affect a vintage. As we have seen this year with the unseasonable frosts that afflicted France, and some of Italy, the weather and other uncontrollable issues can take a huge toll on a producer’s work, preventing them from creating the quality of wine that their hard labour deserves.

In this article, we’re going to look at two of the issues that Italian wine producers have to deal with and the impact each of these issues can have on a crop.

The Hail Problem

It’s no secret that changing climates have an effect on wine harvests. Producers rely on the weather to be predictable to ensure they can get the most out of their grapes. In fact, the climate plays a clear role in grape selection, as certain grapes thrive in climates where other grapes may struggle, and vice-versa.

So, when the climate does something unexpected, entire crops can be ruined.

As mentioned, we’ve already seen this in 2021 with the frosts that devastated much of the European wine industry. Harvest reports in Italy are already telling us that yields are about 15% lower than they were in 2020, with France’s yields being even lower.

However, it is not frost we’re going to focus on here.

It’s something that can be altogether more damaging:


We have, of course, all heard of freakish hailstorms that produce chunks of ice so large that they can cause injuries to people. And while these hailstorms can certainly damage a wine vintage, both by destroying crops and hurting the people who are tending to them, we must also not underestimate the damage that a normal hailstorm can cause.

We saw the extent of this type of damage in Bordeaux in 2018.

That year brought with it sweeping hailstorms to the region. And while there was nothing unusual about the hail itself, the stones still did untold damage to crops. As the director of the Chamber of Agriculture’s Médoc bureau, Roman Tourdias, pointed out:

“The leaves were torn off, the [flower buds] torn off and the wood suffered a major impact, which means the sap won’t circulate well through the vine this year.”

This is an issue that even the most basic of hailstorms create. For as sturdy as a plant’s leaves are in regular conditions, they can easily be destroyed by hailstones. This limits the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients via photosynthesis, which damages the plant in the long run. Roman also points out that damage to the plant’s base can also prevent sap and nutrients derived from the soil from travelling around the plant as effectively.

Think of hailstones as the equivalent of something that leaves your body with a heavy bruise. That bruise may damage your circulatory system for a while, meaning that your blood doesn’t flow as efficiently. If a clot forms, the affected part of your body undergoes further damage. This is the situation that occurs when to plants when hail damages them.

Some producers, particularly those in regions where hail is common, have come up with some solutions to this problem. A few use physical barriers, which are placed in front of the vines. These barriers are often made of mesh, along the vines to still absorb what they need from the surroundings, while still offering a little protection against whatever the elements might throw at the plants.

In other regions, producers are going so far as to try and prevent hail from happening in the first place by seeing clouds. This is an expensive and inaccurate technique though, which means it’s unlikely to see widespread adoption in the Italian wine industry.

The Animal Problem

Moving on from hail and the damage it can cause, we also have to consider the damage animals may do to crops.

Of course, we all know about insects and similar pests. Many producers use man-made pesticides to overcome this problem, which has, in turn, led others to move towards organic production so they can market their products as not using these types of products.

But traditional pests are far from the only animals that can damage a vineyard.

Take what happened in Central Germany back in 2005.

In a strange series of events, a huge group of nocturnal raccoons, that could trace their lineage back to raccoons introduced into the country by Hermann Goering, invaded vineyards to snack on the ripening grapes. Within days, entire crops were lost to the feasting raccoons, with producers being able to do little to prevent the catastrophe beyond organizing a cull to lower the raccoon population.

And this highlights a general issue with wine production:

Grapes are tasty!

It’s why they produce such amazing wines, after all. You can hardly blame the raccoons for invading vineyards to enjoy some sweet grapes. What’s more, they’re far from the only animals that love grapes. Birds are another “pest” that may pick at a wine producer’s products. In fact, birds are the reason so many farmers erect scarecrows in their fields.

The Final Word

Whether it’s hail, animals, or some other issue, Italian wine producers have a lot to contend with when they’re trying to bring their products to consumers. That fact makes it all the more impressive that the Italian wine industry is the size that it is and that producers are able to churn out so many amazing wines, despite all of the barriers that keep getting erected in their paths.

At Xtrawine, we want to celebrate wine producers’ ability to overcome obstacles and craft amazing wines. That’s why we offer thousands of wines, from Italy and beyond, in our online store.


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