'Erratic night' for vineyard frost fighters

Como Villa vineyard owner Johnny Chapman checks his pinot noir vines after a long night of frost...
Como Villa vineyard owner Johnny Chapman checks his pinot noir vines after a long night of frost fighting. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
Icicles hang in an Alexandra vineyard yesterday morning after a night of frost-fighting. Photo by...
Icicles hang in an Alexandra vineyard yesterday morning after a night of frost-fighting. Photo by John Douglas.

Grape growers and orchardists were poised for a big night of frost fighting on Tuesday but some found it to be milder than expected.

In Cromwell basin vineyards, the helicopters and wind machines were out in force as the temperature sank to -0.5degC, but by 5am a breeze had come up and warmed things slightly, Quartz Reef winemaker Rudi Bauer said.

''It was an erratic night ... Effectively everyone was on stand-by and, at the end ... there was no damage. It was better than we were expecting.''

The temperature fell to -2degC in other parts on the basin though and it would be a couple of days before growers would be able to tell if there was any damage, Central Otago Winegrowers Association president James Dicey said.

Earnscleugh and Alexandra grape growers were also out frost fighting.

Como Villa owner Johnny Chapman said he was up keeping an eye on his water pump from about 2am until 9am yesterday as the temperature dropped to an estimated -2degC.

Like orchardists, he fights frost by spraying the vines with water rather than using ''quite expensive'' machines.

It was only the second time this year he had had to seriously frost fight and said the buds, which had only burst over the past week, were at a very vulnerable stage.

On inspection yesterday, there was no damage to his vines.

Mr Dicey said everyone was well warned and well prepared for the frost.

Gibbston Valley vineyards also saw frost fighting as temperatures reached -1degC.

Stonefruit and apple trees are also at a vulnerable point and orchardists too had a long night.

Cromwell orchardist Mark Jackson was out frost fighting from about 1.30am until 7.30am as temperatures reached -1degC but ''we can handle -1 all right''.

Pipfruit New Zealand director Stephen Darling said there was frost fighting in the Teviot Valley too as temperatures got to just below -2degC.

''I think the fruit will come through it reasonably well. It was quite a long frost for us ... We had water on for about eight hours, which makes it a bit wet for orchard work.''

Mr Bauer and Mr Chapman both said they did not expect another frost this week but would be on alert for at least the next month.

- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz

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