Six hectares of Léoville Las Cases’ vineyards have been accidentally poisoned by its neighbour Léoville Poyferré.
Léoville Las Cases, photo credit: Justerini & Brooks
The incident happened in September some two weeks before the harvest when workers from Léoville Poyferré burnt some plant waste and cardboard in a spot reserved for doing so.
However, unbeknown to them, someone had hidden canisters of polyurethane filler in the pile which gave off toxic smoke as the flames took hold and poisoned some vines from the neighbouring St Julien estate.
Didier Cuvelier, owner of Léoville Poyferré, has taken full responsibility for the accident but stressed his and his workers’ innocence in the matter.
“Certain people around here have got used to throwing just about anything away wherever they like,” he told French newspaper Sud-Ouest.
“In the ashes, experts found traces of BA13 plasterboard and burnt aerosols, probably from plasterers, that had been thrown away on our property.”
Jean-Hubert Delon, owner of Léoville Las Cases, told the paper: “The leaves were blackened, they fell off very quickly. The grapes didn’t ripen (further).”
He also criticised the decision to burn waste so close to harvesting.
“The fire should never have been lit in the middle of the vines,” he continued, “and certainly not just before the harvest.”
Yann Montmartin, head of environmental affairs at the Chamber of Agriculture in the Gironde, agreed with Cuvelier that there was a problem with illicit dumping of rubbish.
BA13 plasterboard, which Cuvelier said had been hidden in the rubbish pile
However, he added that it was forbidden to burn waste from production and that collection points for vineyard and winery waste did exist.
The only exception to the burning rule, he said, was the burning of cuttings during winter.
Delon added that the grapes from the affected area had been harvested and vinified separately.
“Who knows what the wine will be like?” he asked, “A grape is a sponge, it can absorb odours.”
In all likelihood, said Delon, the wine would be sent to a distillery and certainly not used in any of the wines from Las Cases this year.
A price has not been set on the damage done and both owners have said their lawyers and insurers are currently in discussions.