Napa wineries wanting to dry out their vineyards after some early wet weather have resorted to an unusual method.
Toby Halkovich, viticulturist at Cakebread Cellars, said the winery hired a helicopter to fly over the vineyards and blow away moisture from leaves and fruit.
“It’s not something we do very often,” Halkovich said. “It’s pretty rare, but storms this point at harvest are pretty rare as well.”
Using wind power from the helicopter rotors, “We want to dry them out and eliminate any threat of disease or infection,” he said.
The crop drying is a precautionary tactic. “We have some nice fruit out there,” Halkovich said. “We know we’re supposed to get offshore winds but we’re just trying to dry some things out, particularly with the cabernet and merlot grapes,” he said. “The good news they’re all pretty thick-skinned. They’re not susceptible to rot anyway.”
Cakebread hired Chad Frazier of Precision Helicopter in Winters, with family member Bruce Cakebread flying along to direct the drying efforts from the air. The two started their flights Tuesday afternoon over Cakebread’s Suscol Springs vineyards south of Skyline Park, and then planned to move Upvalley.
“We stay about 10 to 20 feet above the grapes and keep moving around over it at a walking speed,” Frazier said. “The action of the air will pick up that moisture just like a wind and will suck it off the ground and the plants,” he said.
“We don’t get a whole lot of calls for the crop drying,” Frazier said. He charges $800 to $1,600 an hour for the service.
Even though the helicopter is pushing down thousands of pounds of air pressure as it hovers, “it’s not going to hurt the grapes or the plants,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Halkovich wasn’t sure how many acres they would cover.
“It depends on how quick it goes,” he said. The winery will also use wind machines where available.
Responding to the unseasonably wet start to October, at least one other Napa Valley vineyard was spotted using a helicopter for vineyard drying last week.
The forecast is for sunny, dry and warmer weather the remainder of this week, with possible showers on Sunday, according to weather.com.