Friday, September 21, 2012

Hungry Birds

On those common occasions when I visit an earnest Missouri winery, a winery that produces wine made from grapes grown in Missouri, a winery owned by good folks who want to make a great product rather than running a winery to "grow a portfolio," I usually sign up for their email newsletters. I've subscribed to a few, maybe 10, some which deliver weekly updates (River Ridge, Commerce, every Friday) and others (Augusta Winery, Augusta) randomly, but always welcome. As an email newsletter recipient, I'm among the throngs who learn of case discounts on Norton (which I still can't afford), of live music (which I'll never hear because I don't like being around crowds of people), special pairings (which I never attend because I don't drink whites and pairings always include whites). The best part about the newsletters, however, is the actual news about the winery: how are the grapes holding up in the drought? is harvest underway? challenges to the latest vintage? forecasts on barrel tastings? I look forward to the news-ier newsletters and tend to read them in their entirety.

Last year, I learned that Yellow Farmhouse (Defiance) lost most of their Traminette grapes to the American Robins who devoured them just before harvest. What a tasty treat! This grape-snatching devastated the 2011 vintage, so this year, Yellow Farmhouse invested in simple- but effective -bird netting. On a recent visit to Yellow Farmhouse in Defiance, I saw a few sparrows jostling the netting draped over the Traminettes in an effort to get inside to eat the those big fat grapes, but they were thwarted by the careful application of the plastic netting material. "It's not very attractive," the sweet man at the tasting bar told me, "but it's effective."

In the past few weeks, I've received at least four Missouri winery newsletters with articles bemoaning the loss of much of this year's harvest to hungry birds. One St. James area winery suggests that the drought has encouraged birds to seek food sources outside of their natural settings, so they're hitting up vineyards in the area. The Norton vines were particularly hard hit this year on the Central Plateau, and next year, this winery, too, will be investing in bird netting. Another winery in the central Ozarks invested in bird netting for their Norton grapes, but no others. The Seyval Blanc was wiped out, but the Norton was saved.

Even in years of hungry bird populations visiting unprotected vineyards, Ozarkers are still producing fine Missouri wines. Before my birthday trip back home to Louisiana last week, snaking through the Ozarks I snagged several bottles of 2011 Traminette and Vignoles (since EVERYONE in Louisiana but me drinks whites during hot weather) to hand out as gifts (along with Honeycrisp apples from Moberly and kale from my yard). All well received, and summarily consumed. I suspect that as there are farm forecasts of blackbirds on rice fields, there are forecasts of songbird population impacts to wine grapes. Right? Surely someone is tracking that...

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