We moved to our home here in the Langhe-Roero in January 2005. After living 2 years in Torino it was, and still is, a paradise.
When you move into a new place you have to get used to new things, most of all noises. The worst thing was the cat. I’m not a cat fan. I don’t hate them but I don’t like them either. The previous owners had a cat, well, they claimed it wasn’t theirs, that they just fed it and that it had to come with the house. I was very insistent that we were buying a house and I didn’t want the free cat. The first morning it was outside our bedroom balcony door, crying for food at 4am! This wasn’t going to continue and it didn’t. A little water and it never came back.
Apart from that - silence. It took us a while to get used to the darkness at night, the lack of passing traffic, that people weren’t screaming at each other in the middle of the night and car drivers weren’t honking horns all through the day. Amazing!
It was our first Spring. The clouds darkened and swirled that day, rain was very likely. Then a new and curious sound. I said to Ula, my wife, that there must be a military base nearby as we could hear the sure sound of gunfire, or more accurately deep-sounding cannon fire.. This was odd. We found ourselves living next to a Piedmont Salisbury Plain!
I really don’t remember who I asked about it, it must have been a neighbour, whoever it was, all was revealed. There weren’t troops preparing for WW3 in the vineyards and valleys but it was cannon fire. Cannons to protect the vines!
They’re strange things that can be seen all over. Always in the middle of vines and always on the top of hills. And their purpose is not to shoot people with evil intent that approach but to fire large pockets of air into the sky. One of the big threats for wine growers is hail (grandine in Italian). It’s very common in the Spring and this is bad. At this time of year the grapes are small and vulnerable. A heavy hailstorm can easily wipe out an entire crop. The cannons fire air and the air shifts the clouds - I kid you not! Above the cannons are large holes in the sky. They really do work.
Of course this creates some issues. The clouds have to go somewhere so they’ll usually shift over someone else’s vines that doesn’t have a cannon. Then there’s the noise. We don’t have one on top of us so the sound is fine but they get a bit intrusive if you have one near you. There are benefits though - your car wont be ruined, which can happen if the hail is big enough, and you get less rain. And they only fire for about half an hour and it’s always during the daytime. It’s extremely rare we get hail in the night.
The cannons are usually owned by a small consortium of local growers who install and operate one in the centre of their lands. They can be fired manually - as soon as it looks like rain and it’s warm a local that’s assigned rushes up the hill to press the button, or some are triggered by SMS. They’re curious looking things too. They always remind me of the Kate Bush music video, Cloudbusting. They’re a 3m tall slender cone pointing up in the sky like an old blunderbuss rifle. You won't see them in the Langhe as it's under the flight path for Turin airport and air being fired up at planes is not considered a good thing.
So, when you find yourself in the Roero again and the sky darkens and it sounds like war - fear not, they’re just protecting the next harvest.