Cognac producers in furious row with locals over noisy turbines
Residents in part of the Cognac growing region are at loggerheads with local vignerons over “deafening” anti-frost turbines.
After heavy frosts in 2021 ruined a significant part of their crop, growers in Saint-Ciers-Champagne in the Charente-Maritime department erected a series of masts which they use to warm the air in vineyards and prevent damage to their grapes. However, local residents say the devices sound like helicopters flying over head and interrupt their sleep.
Their presence has become the source of some considerable conflict in the region.
“These big fans, equipped with two sails perched on a mast 12 metres up, automatically start when the temperature falls to 1.6C,” Bruno Delannoy, president of the Vinet-Delpech distillery, told French newspaper Le Figaro.
“They are able to capture less cold air, located higher up, and bring it to ground level to avoid the temperature dropping too much.”
Delannoy’s company owns 100 hectares of vineyards in the Fins Bois & Petite Champagne appellations of Cognac.
However, the mayor of Saint-Ciers-Champagne, Michel Vion, has spoken out against this system of protecting grapes from sudden frost damage.
“We’ve got 20-odd towers in the town. When they’re up and running, they emit 80 to 100 decibels of noise right into the town. When there is a lot of frost, as there was in April 2021, they operate 10 days in a row for 12 hours flat, from 9pm to 9am. People can’t sleep.”
Vion called a meeting between residents and winemakers, but said: “We had before us an aggressive group of vintners bent on defending their vineyards at all costs.”
Bernard Maindron, the mayor of neighbouring Allas-Champagne, told Le Figaro there was no legislation regulating the use of the turbines or imposing a “minimum distance from housing”.
Supporters of the vignerons and their towers says that that the Cognac industry employs 60,000 people locally and generates €3.6 billion in sales, so residents should tolerate them for the common good.
They cite the example of the Loir-et-Cher department, where the authorities have issued a decree banning any legal challenge to the anti-frost towers on the grounds that they are essential for local winemaking.
“Even if these towers emit noise that surpasses authorised norms, exceptional climatic conditions call for exceptional preventative measures,” said Timothée Dufour, lawyer for the Cognac winegrowers.
But residents of Saint-Ciers-Champagne are fighting on and have lodged a formal complaint with the regional Prefect.