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Winemakers Use Cannons in a War Against The Weather

Every year there is a war against the weather gods and winemakers are armed to the teeth. Perhaps you’ve seen their strange devices looming like giants in vineyards. These are the winemaker’s artillery against the elements. A winery will do anything it can to protect their grapes against being destroyed by wind, rain, hail, birds, and even pillaging baboons.

An All-Out War Against Bad Weather

From left to right: two kinds of frost fans, smudge pots and a hail cannon

Recently, the US Department of Agriculture declared a large number of New York State counties to be a disaster area. The winter freeze nearly destroyed all of the Merlot vineyards and 50% of the frost resistant grapes like Riesling. What does this mean? Well, in some instances, wineries will have to completely replant and wait up to 7 years to have their vineyards produce grapes!

If the weather dips only for short periods, vineyard managers have the opportunity to save their grapes with the following devices:

Windmills or fans in vineyards

What are those large fans in vineyards?

Those big fans you see are a type of wind machine. There are several variations of wind machines for vineyards but the overall concept is the same. Cold air collects on the ground and in valleys and when nighttime temperatures are low enough, it will freeze grapes. This is bad! The fans blow warmer air from above down into the vineyards to keep frost from forming.

Hail Cannons from 1903

Cannons blast hail storm clouds

Hail cannons have actually been used since the 19th century. It is a cannon that blasts a shock wave upwards into clouds during an approaching storm. The shock wave from the cannon is so powerful that it will break up the creation of hail stones before they drop out of the sky. Hail is devastating to all types of agriculture because it often happens in the spring when plants have tiny delicate buds.

Smudge Pots in a fruit orchard

Why Napa Valley used to be covered in smoke

It used to be a common sight to see smoke throughout the valley in the fall. The smoke was from diesel fuel and oil being burned in smudge pots to warm up the air enough to keep the vineyard from freezing. Today, this technique is restricted in places like Napa and Sonoma Valley, but can still be found in other countries with much less strict environmental regulations.

Nets over vines or Netting in Vineyards

What are those nets covering the vineyards?

One day you’ll be driving through the scenic countryside only to see a vineyard covered with nets. It does not look very natural. While nets are not exactly the most beautiful sight, they are designed to keep birds from eating grapes before they are ripe enough to harvest. Nets are expensive and hard to install, but they are effective and do not harm the surrounding environment.

Baboons are hard to stop

We talked with several producers about controlling monkeys in the vineyards in South Africa. Apparently, baboons are pretty treacherous. Besides eating the grapes, they will also rip up vines and pull out stakes. Baboons are territorial so it’s actually moderately dangerous to work the vineyards when a group of baboons decide to take over your vineyard. Most producers who have run into trouble try electric fences first, but the baboons figure out what lines have voltage and carefully avoid them. Another idea used was to scare them with fireworks and gun blasts. This worked at first, but the baboons just ignored it when they realized they were not in danger.

Photo of wind fans by rezansky
Photo of smudge pots by glaukos
Photo of hail cannons from 1903 wikimedia commons

Photo of netting in vineyard by Alison Young

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