Boars and Baboons and Bears, Oh My! The World’s Hungriest Vineyard Pests

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

Grapes and their vines can be irresistible to many creatures. While insects like phylloxera are known for their widescale destruction, there’s a variety of other creatures that terrorize growers around the world.

These critters have a taste for Chianti, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and more. Here, three hungry beasts of the animal kingdom, plus the innovative ways vineyard managers curb their appetites.

Boars

Throughout Germany, France and Italy, wild boars are beastly. They demolish ripened grapes before harvest, damage vines and grub up roots. Boars can grow to more than 200 pounds and eat up to 5% of their bodyweight daily. In Chianti Classico, losses to boars are estimated between $11–16 million annually. And, in the Mosel, troves of boars swoop through vineyard slopes, where they erode soil and create slip-and-slides that topple vines and workers.

Solutions are limited. While largely a vegetarian, Ernst Loosen, owner of Dr. Loosen, occasionally enjoys honeyed Riesling auslese alongside boar fattened on grapes from the same vineyard. At Weingut Maximin Grünhaus, visitors can purchase wildschweinsalamimade from boars hunted on the estate.

How Bugs and Other Critters are Saving Vineyards

Baboons

In Cape Town, South Africa, baboons with a penchant for Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the like are public enemy No. 1. Their population has increased dramatically due to decreased natural habitats and dwindling predators. Worse still, they’re selective: They devour the sweetest grapes and destroy unripe clusters.

Wineries like Groot Constantia rely on expensive fencing and trained monitors who chase baboons back to conservation areas. They sometimes use paint to scare them off, too.

Birds

Small in stature yet terrifying in number, Hitchcockian swarms of birds like starlings or grackles, sometimes in the thousands, can eat through a ton of grapes in just a few days. A starling can eat up to 70 grapes a day, while smaller birds peck at grapes to burst berries and introduce insects and disease. It’s estimated that the combined damage to wine grapes in California, Michigan, New York, Washington and Oregon is more than $70 million per year.

Netting installed over vineyard rows can prevent bird damage, but it can be hugely expensive, and it’s also highly labor intensive. Kites and inflatable air dancers, recorded distress calls and even pyrotechnics are also used to scare off birds.

Species like starlings, however, are quick to adjust to these conditions. In recent years, producers like Cakebread Cellars and Gallo Family Vineyards in Napa have found success with trained falcons that dive at and scare off flocks.

Published on January 10, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings


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