Few occupations rely as heavily on Mother Nature as winemaking. Vineyards across the world need to keep an eye on the conditions of their territory, ensuring that soil remains fertile for growing grapes and the produce enjoys a sufficient balance of sunlight, rain, and clement temperatures.
Alas, it’s not just the weather that can impact wineries. Wildlife, especially rodents, typically treat the grapes grown on a vineyard as an all-you-can-eat buffet. In many circumstances, winemakers would rely upon pesticides to deter these unwelcome visitors.
With an increasing interest in sustainable and ecologically sound practices in the industry, however, students at California’s Humboldt State University are experimenting with a natural selection.
Reviewing the conditions of some 75 vineyards in Napa Valley, the student team introduced 300 owl nests to the regions. Owls hunt rodents, and their presence can act as a deterrent.
Given that a single family of owls can eat almost three-and-a-half thousand rodents in a year, that’s hardly surprising. You can watch the owls of Napa Valley in action on this video.
The results were interesting. The owl population did reduce the number of gophers in Napa Valley, but mice remained a consistent presence. 80% of vineyards have since agreed to install owl nesting boxes on their vineyards in place of chemicals.
Just 20% continue to use pesticides, which cause a slow, painful, and deeply unpleasant demise for any rodent unfortunate enough to consume them.
As the use of chemical deterrents has been a hot-button issue for some time, it’s hardly a new development to make use of nature’s weapons. Farmers, for example, are prone to using birds of prey – most notably raptors – to keep nibbling visitors away.
That’s not just in the USA, either. Nations across Asia and Africa are also practicing such policies.
The wine industry, in particular, is under pressure to adopt a more organic policy to their work. This will be reflected on a bottle and sought out by eco-conscious customers.
Napa Valley has a long way to go before an organic approach is considered standard – at the time of writing, less than 10% of the vineyards found in the territory are certified this way. Slow progress is still progress, though. With water use being minimized and reduced tilling, the winemaking industry is moving in the right direction.