Against Frost Candles in Vineyards
Just before dawn on a clear May morning in Joching, Austria, acrid smoke begins to rise. About 30 people walk through the vineyards and set fire to damp heaps of straw and foliage that were prepared the previous night.
In the southern English county of Sussex, two men are out in the overnight hours in Ridgeview’s vineyard. They light hundreds of “candle” heaters between the vine rows that give off heat and bathe the landscape in an eerie, beautiful light.
A few months earlier in Central Otago, New Zealand, helicopters circled above the Akitu vineyards as sprinklers began to bathe the vines.
These differing techniques share the same aim: to save the tender new shoots on the vines from deadly spring frost.
Spring frosts can be devastating. During winter, vines are dormant. They are frost hardy and can easily survive temperatures from 14°F to as low as 5°F. However, the situation changes dramatically once buds have sent out their first green shoots.
Buds and shoots contain water, and when they freeze, it bursts their delicate cell walls. Even if it’s warmer, a few critically cold minutes can destroy an entire crop. Some plants can recover, but vines can’t. Their secondary shoots are never as fruitful. Wine growers in frost-prone areas have learned to counteract this, but they need to know the kind of frost they fight.
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