Choppers Used to Fight Vineyard Frost

    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.

Posted in Wine Buzz
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