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Kaleden viticulturist may have solution to keep vines warm during cold snaps

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

A Kaleden viticulturist and helicopter pilot has come up with an idea that could save vineyards from damage caused by cold snaps.

Steve McNolty and his neighbour both own vineyards and while assessing the damage the cold snap had on their vines they decided to come up with a solution.

They looked to the drip line irrigation system and wondered if they could use the pipes to help the vines survive through cold snaps.

"You're able to clip the drip line close to the buds in the opposite position in the post so it's only a few centimetres away from your fruit buds, so we thought we could warm that drip line in the deepest cold," McNolty says.

In the fall, the irrigation system is blown out with pressurized air and he figured there must be a way to blast heated air through the lines to keep the air temperature around the buds a few degrees warmer when the mercury drops well below zero.

McNolty continued to brainstorm the idea and turned to other places of the world that deal with harsh winters. Vineyards in Europe and Quebec use a geotech material to cover the rows of vines after pruning in the fall.

"The problem is this could turn things into a bit of a greenhouse," he said. "I'm not yet sure that it's feasible because to avoid this you would have to turn it on and off in time - because the cold snaps usually last a short amount of time - so once the warmer temperatures come, the plants would de-acclimate, in other words they start to wake up."

McNolty is hoping by publicizing his heated air idea more ideas can be generated.

"For now, it would be a very labour-intensive process, but it wouldn't be too expensive," he says. "Five acres would cost less than $6,000 for a heater and a blower. The heater would be blown under the ground through your lines, which are dry and below the frost line, so the air would be delivered with some temperature to it."

For now, McNolty remains unsure of the feasibility but will test it out himself in hopes of perfecting the project to make it a viable solution for other vineyards across the region.

"The next steps are to get pricing for the geotech material - I've sourced the furnace and the fan which are readily available - and I am also applying for grants as they become available to try and test this out."

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