At Kendall-Jackson we have a problem: our grapes are too good. That means there are lots different critters all interested in eating the grapes before we can bottle them. So that means we have to work a little harder to keep our grapes healthy and on the vine until we’re ready for harvest.
One method of sustainable pest control we use in the vineyard is called biocontrol. Biocontrol uses one species to reduce the adverse affects of another. Balancing open space land with farming land provides a natural habitat for wildlife in the vineyards, which includes insects. When there is enough biodiversity nature seems to have a way of keeping most of the disruptive critters in balance – and we count on that.
The first thing we do is scout the vineyards each week to see if there are any problems. A licensed Pest Control Adviser (PCA) makes observations to track pest populations. The PCA uses information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment, combined with available pest control methods, to determine potential pest damage.
So what exactly is biocontrol? Well, let’s start at the top of the food chain with owls. Both owls and raptors reduce the gopher population; in order to introduce biocontrol to a vineyard we build owl boxes and raptor perches. Those get installed in the vineyards on tall poles and nature takes its course. Owls take residence in the boxes and the hawks will use perches to look for prey.
The next stop down on the food chain is beneficial insects. These predacious or parasitic insects reduce the adverse affect of other invasive species. There are many predacious insects — ladybug larvae, lacewings, and mealybug destroyer – that we use to eat pest insects. To promote the vitality of these beneficial insects areas are seeded specifically to develop habitats known as insectaries. These habitats drastically increase the biodiversity of our vineyards.
The use of biocontrol is really an amazing combination of old school farming practices and new technology. The old school part is simple, to maintain biodiversity by keeping the vineyard and surrounding land as natural as possible. The new tech part is more complex, to learn and manage the growth cycles of harmful pests and beneficial wildlife and insects.