Critters in the Vineyards

Living out in the country, seemingly miles from civilization with nary a neighbor in sight, we are always asked what critters we see in the vineyards. Yes, we did have a Brown Bear cruise though several years ago (he was more interested in the cat food and garbage bins than the grapes), and have even seen an elusive Mountain Lion racing up the hillsides across the valley.
But our biggest vineyard pests are Deer; they will eat any and everything not nailed down! Driving around the Napa Valley, you will notice the many gated vineyards and you might think that we are flaunting our privacy or showing off our valuable property – but the truth is that we are actually fencing OUT the deer. They are so plentiful that our local landscapers even do a brisk business in deer-resistant plants, and all too often there are deer carcasses on the sides of the road where they have been looking for greener pastures (read “vineyards”) and been hit by cars.

Pocket Gophers are another major pest, eating roots of the vines and leaving tunnels and mounds that disturb the soil. Bait is sometimes used, but it can also kill domesticated animals and owls that eat the gophers, so thousands of buried traps are put out each year. We have even known one vintner in Carneros whose vineyard was so over-run by gophers that he sent out crews with shotguns to shoot every gopher that popped up! (Images of the Whack-A-Mole Game come to mind.)

Birds would be our next largest category of pests, and they come in all sizes. The Wild Turkeys are a huge pest at harvest, and some vineyards have been known to have turkeys so thick that vineyard trucks driving down the rows have to honk continually to scatter flocks numbering in the dozens. When the grapes begin to sweeten and are almost ready to pick, they also attract the Common or European Starling. Massive flocks in the hundreds of thousands can be seen swirling through the air at harvest, weaving dark clouds in the sky, and if they were to land en mass in the vineyard, the crop could be decimated.

To combat these flocks of birds,  vineyard managers shoot off loud “bird guns” to scare them, or position large cages with bait to trap them, but most vineyard crews just tie reflective Mylar strips all through the vines. Glimmering in the sun as they catch a breeze, supposedly the birds will not land on the ripe fruit laden vines when these flashing strips are shining. But after a week or so the reflectors seem to loose their threat, and we have noticed the birds sitting very close to the reflectors, eating away at the sweet grapes, as if to say to each other “Oh look! I can see my reflection!”

Ahh . . . life in the country.