Those of you who have come to visit the winery have probably noticed that there are a lot of trees on the property. This makes a nice haven for many Finches and Starlings. It’s probably not too hard for you to guess what these birds enjoy snacking on while they are perching in our trees. That’s right, grapes! Birds also like to drink when they feed and we conveniently have both Lake William and Lake Leticia near the vineyards. Both types of birds are equally as damaging to the grapes but in different ways. The starlings consume whole berries and work in flocks, which are capable of stripping vines in short time periods. Finches, on the other hand peck away parts of berries that can then attract insects or promotes mold growth. As the fruit ripens and softens, it can also be damaged by birds landing and stepping on it. In 1996 the decision was made that something must be done to deter the birds from stripping our vines of their precious crop.
“In order to improve our wine we ripen our grapes more than typical in the industry and this gives us even more exposure to the birds. Prior to 1996 we estimated losses from 15% in some zones to almost total loss in others.” William Jarvis
Before deciding how to control birds it is important to know how birds behave. It is difficult to break birds of the habit of feeding in a particular area once they are established. Birds feeding on your crop attract other birds, compounding the the initial problem. A variety of visual and sound methods are used by wineries around the world to deter birds. Usually the birds will become accustomed to these deterrent devices after a short period of time and ignore them. Birds are smart and can learn to recognize what a stationary cannon or noise making device looks like from the air and simply land in areas of the vineyard where these devices are not located. They will endure significant hardships to feed and quickly acclimate to uniform movements or noise patterns.
Therefore the best method to deter birds is with bird netting. Bird netting unfortunately is also one of the most costly and labor intensive methods of protecting our grapes. Bird netting is usually applied immediately following verasion (when the grapes begin to turn color), and removed just prior to harvest. Care must be taken throughout the ripening period to watch for small finches who are able to get into the netting and get trapped. Although bird netting is quite effective at keeping most birds out, we haven’t quite figured out how to deter our large resident flock of turkeys. They seem to be just the right height to eat the grapes through the bird netting with no problem at all.
As an interesting side-note, in 1996 we were able to harvest grapes from Finch Hollow for the first time. Dimitri kept these grapes separate from our other lots of Chardonnay to see just why the birds preferred that section of the vineyard. When it came time to blend the 1996 Chardonnay for bottling, Dimitri decided that the birds knew exactly what they were doing as Finch Hollow turned out to be some of the best Chardonnay the property had ever produced. Since then Dimitri has continued to keep our Finch Hollow grapes separate each year to make our Reserve Chardonnay. (Look for the article in our next newsletter which will discuss our upcomming release of 1999 Reserve Chardonnay).