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Three years ago we lost an entire crop of Meyer lemons, and nearly the trees too, having forgotten to check the weather report. Never again! We're expecting sub-zero temps this week in Napa Valley, and we're ready! All this year's nearly ripe lemons are now safely encased in the Frost Fortress. We have no resident engineers at Villa Ragazzi, so the walls could fall to a gust of wind -- but we're trying. If all goes well, there will be limoncello to share.
Most vineyards in Napa Valley are pruned from December through February. Pruning late is another form of frost control. It delays bud break by a few days, a few more days in which frost won't be a concern.
Today was pruning day at Villa Ragazzi, which suggests that bud break is imminent. Springtime!
Note the cloudless blue sky.
What wakes us up at 3 am during frost season? The deep rumble of this repurposed diesel-powered aircraft engine, complete with propeller, fired up when the frost alarm goes off to keep frigid air from settling low among the vines.
With bud break nigh, vineyard managers in Napa Valley are checking their frost protection equipment, testing old-fashioned wind machines like ours or more modern but water-intensive overhead sprinkler systems. With a crop as valuable as Napa Valley grapes at stake (excuse the pun), it's well worth rising for dawn patrol to keep the tender young shoots safe from frost damage.
Frost season in Napa Valley runs from bud break in March through early May. Frost protection systems can be run for days, while other years the vines are never threatened. But vineyard managers don't sleep well until frost season is over again.
Visitors to Napa Valley get a lesson in physics when they ask about those big propellers in the vineyards. Their purpose is to protect tender vine shoots from frost damage by keeping the air circulating, preventing the coldest air from settling on the ground. They make a lot of noise in the wee hours (think the parting scene in Casablanca), but locals don't mind because we'd happily trade a few hours of interrupted sleep for a decent crop. Frost season isn't that long anyway, typically from budbreak in mid-March to reliably warmer weather in early May.
So why are we talking about frost during harvest? Because -- unusually -- the wind machines have been running in broad daylight for the past couple of days. We've had a few days of rain, much dreaded by growers with rapidly ripening but not quite ready to pick, fragile, expensive winegrapes. In the absence of a typical warm breeze wafting through the Napa Valley that would naturally dry out the vines, the gentlemen have started their engines to protect the quality of their precious grapes.
In Bordeaux, where harvest rain is fairly common, they use helicopters.
I am Villa Ragazzi's default blogger and wielder of the blue pencil.