The ancient ritual of fires between the rows of vines

The ancient ritual of fires between the rows of vines

May 14, 2022


Ilaria Rosa

With climate change, we have increasingly seen mild winters. The resulting early awakening of the beginning of the vegetative phase can be severely compromised by late spring night frosts. These phenomena risk compromising all the seasonal product from the start, nullifying the constant and long work of wine producers.

When the vines resume their life cycle, the freezing point would freeze the water contained in the plant tissues, shoots, buds and roots, so this phenomenon could have serious consequences even in the long term. Spring frosts are particularly harmful when night temperatures, especially at the bottom of the valley, in the absence of wind, drop well below zero degrees. It therefore becomes essential for growers to seek solutions to save crops from this harmful natural disaster. The most common solution, especially beyond the Alps, is the ancestral one of fires between the rows that can be made in various ways: with dry and green wood, with damp straw, with small stoves, or with lanterns.

In an attempt to raise the temperature by a few degrees at ground level, the winemakers go to the vineyards at night and light the fires previously prepared, at a distance of 60cm from the plant every 10 / 15m. It is not so much the heat that saves the sprouts but above all the smoke that slowly invades the entire vineyard, slightly raising the temperature. It's hard work that farmers do all night, feeding the fires continuously until morning, obviously hoping that effort will save the crop. A more ecological but less economical method is the one used in Bordeaux and Valais in Switzerland, where producers have been installing gigantic fans in the vineyards for some years now.

With this system, the hot air, which at night tends to rise upwards, mixes with the cold one below, increasing the temperature on the ground; however, this method is not very effective below -2 °. Another way to combat the cold are irrigation systems capable of forming an ice cap over the vines, preserving them from the most intense colds.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the fires method is the most spectacular, with thousands of lights shining along the rows of vines, the night seems to be celebrating, but if all this does not work it is a tragedy. Many neighboring winemakers of crops share the effort in an experience that demonstrates the passion and attachment for their work. At the first light of dawn, early risers will be able to enjoy rare images, glimpsing faint fires that slowly go out and a mist of smoke scattered among the rolling hills.

A fantastic show that tastes of ancient, with techniques handed down from generation to generation.

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