My friend, Jeff Miller, was in town yesterday and we went up to my vineyard to check on veraison. A fear of mine was confirmed as we walked the first row of Aglianico and saw a lot of empty rachises – the aftermath of birds’ feeding frenzy.
There are a variety of birds on Mt. Washington. A summary of the area’s flora and fauna is detailed nicely here. Personally, I have seen lots of pigeons in the vineyard. There have been the occasional Scrub Jays, as well. I have also seen parrots common in San Gabriel Valley flying over the vineyard. These squawking wasteful eaters tend to go after figs, oranges and persimmons, but grapes would do just as well.
While one or two shoots were broken – presumably under the weight of a hungry bird – there is no sign of berries having been dropped during the sloppy feeding typical of these parrots. Starlings – the main offenders in commercial vineyards – are also represented on Mt. Washington and they are among my suspects.
No roundup of the usual suspects is necessary, however. So far, the damage is in line with what I have heard: birds tend to pick a spot and leave other areas untouched. Nevertheless, the grapes have some time to go and as it is. I need to net the vines as soon as possible to prevent further losses.
I have been experimenting with some 14-foot wide nylon netting available at Home Depot. This stuff is neither as wide as the netting used in commercial vineyards, nor is it as heavy or flexible or as durable. But it’s better than nothing.
Since my vines are not trellised, I have to determine if I will net each individual vine (in a “lollipop” fashion, or if I can effectively net whole rows.
Below, are some shots of each method:
This “lollipop method is more time-intensive and probably wastes more netting that covering a whole row would. Additionally, it does not allow for the netting to drape away from the vine. The more clever birds will hang on the net, weighing it down to get closer to the fruit.
Netting entire rows seems a more effective method. If I can get netting wide enough, I can drape it away from the vines on the ground and secure it with small metal stakes. This will definitely be the fastest way to get the vines protected and keep the birds from having access to the fruit through the net.
I don’t know if I can get better (ie. more “professional”) netting locally. In the future, I want to use another, wider and more durable, type of netting. Maybe I can find some gently used netting or some sort of off-season clearance at a vineyard supply house.
In the meantime, veraison – the main purpose of our visit – is pretty much done. We tasted and inspected some berries: sugars are still low and the pulp still clings to the seeds, despite the deep, dark color.
We did drop about 12-18 clusters; some primary (full, large conical clusters as in the pictures above and below) and some secondary (round and only a fraction of the size of the primary). These were mostly green and leaving them on the vines would affect the more mature clusters.
If I am able to get netting on the vines soon enough (it’s been blazing hot this weekend) I will be lucky to get four gallons of finished Aglianico from this year’s small harvest.