October will be remembered as the worst wildfire month in California’s history.
Those who followed the fire fight on television will long remember the images of water- and chemical-hauling helicopters and airplanes, as Southern California’s skies were transformed into a weird combination of thick smoke and low-flying aircraft.
About the same time, 100 helicopters were flying over the vineyards of New Zealand’s Marlborough region, but for a very different purpose: frost protection. Many veteran wine growers say it was one of the toughest frosts they’ve ever faced.
One even described it as reminiscent of a scene from “Apocalypse Now,” as the fleet of choppers took to the air and then flew low over the vines.
“When you have a radiation frost, the heat radiates out from the surface of the earth (and) gets trapped in an inversion layer,” said New Zealand Wine Growers Chairman Stuart Smith. “The wind machine — or the helicopter — is able to (push) that warm air down and circulate it around the vines.”
It costs up to $3,000 an hour to run a helicopter, but when one’s livelihood clings to a grapevine, it pays to go all out to protect it — and chopper pilots answered the call from far and wide.
The choppers were not the only method employed to stave off the cold, and Smith says there has been a lot of investment by the industry in frost protection measures.
Growers are hoping the massive mobilization of helicopters saved the bulk of their budding vines.