It is not just winemakers anxious to produce quality wines for a thirsty public who are interested in the vineyard and its grapes.  A whole host of furry and feathered visitors want a share of that crop.

This is not a problem exclusive to North Georgia vineyards, it happens all around the globe.  Lumpkin County has an additional pest that is not so common around the world – hungry black bears!  So, what can be done to keep mice, raccoons, possum and other small mammals at bay?  Not to mention deer and birds.  Some vineyards take a fatalistic approach, dedicating a number of lower quality rows of vines on the property edge as a sacrifice to the scavengers, in hope that the remainder of the vineyard will not be ravaged.

However, a more proactive approach is to encourage natural predators to hang around the vineyard. 

In Chile, a vineyard called Viña Caliterra launched a Birds of Prey Program to naturally control pests, mainly rabbits and rodents, in their vineyards.  They encourage birds of prey by building nest boxes and feeders.  In four years, the rabbit populations has decreased by 18% and there has been 30% less damage caused to the vines.

Californian vineyards in Lodi are also encouraging barn owls for “natural rodent control and integrated pest management” by providing nesting boxes.  Initially this presented problems – attaching nesting boxes to electricity poles resulted in more cable strikes by the birds and power cuts.  Things improved when the power companies assisted in moving nesting boxes from utility poles and erecting 100 freestanding owl homes.  The vineyards definitely benefitted.

In Napa Valley, long grass prevented birds of prey from catching voles which were gnawing at vines and destroying them.  Enter Whiskers, Tails and Ferals, an animal rescue center that collects wild cats.  The feral cats are rented to local vineyards, where they do a great job of controlling the vole problem.

Encouraging predators can save grapes for winemaking.  Cavender Creek has already had discussions with local falconry enthusiasts over using the vineyard as a free-fly hunting zone.   Maybe the hunters will be a tourist attraction in their own right in future.  And perhaps our local animal shelters could take a look at the Californian example. 

Robin Hall

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