May 25, 2013 6:42 PM by Bernie Riggs - KPAX News
MISSOULA - Some residents of the Rattlesnake Valley woke up Saturday wondering who could possibly be mowing their lawn at 5 a.m., before realizing the mysterious noise was from a hovering helicopter overhead.
It turns out the early morning flight was to prevent frost from damaging the grapes at Tenspoon Winery's vineyard. Co-owner Andy Sponseller called in the helicopter when temperatures dipped to 30 degrees on the valley floor.
The helicopter hovered about 90 feet over the grapes from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and at that height the temperature was about 44 degrees, a full 14 degrees warmer.
The chopper's blades pushed warmer air down, acting as a giant fan. Sponseller says the five acre vineyard produces about 16 tons of grapes, which equals somewhere between $100,000 and $125,000 worth of wholesale wine.
"The stakes are high enough now that with the amount of mature vines that we have in our vineyard that we really can't afford to take a chance anymore. There's a lot at stake with each and every crop," he explained.
This isn't the first time Tenspoon has used a helicopter. When temperatures dipped last October, a chopper was called in, saving a full harvest of mature grapes.