Jack Frost has a pretty devastating effect on new growth in the vineyard. Usually in March and April if he drops the temperature to below 32 degrees F the young buds can burn and die. The worst I’ve seen resulted in no crop that year.
When I was in grammar school my father, Louis P Martini, and a lot of other farmers, would get up at 2:00 a.m. and go out and light rows of orchard heaters. By the time we were ready for school the sky was black from all the smoke. One day my dad read about the inversion layer. The inversion layer is warm air that sits on top of the cold air because cold air settles to the ground. He figured if he could get the warm air down it would warm up the cold air and the vines wouldn’t freeze. To do this my dad and grandfather, Louis M Martini, went out and bought an airplane engine. They built a twenty foot tower and mounted the engine on top and weighed it down with a stack of cement pier blocks. My grandfather’s right hand man was Jim Tanaka who he told to go up and start the engine. Jim looked at him like he was crazy so they compromised and hooked enough bailing wire to the starter that Jim only had to climb a few feet up to start it, which he did and then jumped off. Jumping off the tower was a good thing because as the engine coughed into action the whole tower took off and did a nose dive into the vineyard trashing two rows of grape vines until it dug itself into the dirt and died. My brother, sisters and I were laughing as we watched this whole episode from the side lines. That was the beginning of what is now seen around the valley as wind machines. It still sounds like the whole valley will take off on frosty mornings as all the machines turn on.
Of course today we know the best frost control is to turn sprinklers on because as water freezes the temperature stays right at 32. With the present drought however we may be thankful that the wind machines are still there.