“Birds in Distress” Soundtrack Humanely Controls Pests

Visit the Walla Faces vineyard this time of year and you’ll be greeted with an inelegant soundtrack. “SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SQUAWK.” An audio recording called “Birds in Distress” is our method of keeping hungry wildlife at bay.

Walla Walla’s bird population is beloved by nature-enthusiasts, but is less appreciated by those of us who tend to vineyards. This region hosts a variety of resident birds, such as Song Sparrows, Bewicks Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers, and Great Blue Herons. During the fall, though, the bird population skyrockets. This is because Walla Walla is smack in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, a migratory corridor that runs from Siberia to Patagonia. Most species of bird pass through Walla Walla between late summer and autumn. This means that Walla Walla is saturated with birds at the exact time that our grapes are particularly succulent.

House Finches, American Robins, and European Starlings are especially likely to pose a threat. At the Walla Faces vineyard, we usually see perky Starlings. European Starlings are an invasive species that was introduced to the United States 1890. A wealthy Shakespeare-lover named Eugene Schieffelin released a flock of starlings in New York’s Central Park as a part of an ill-thought-out plan to introduce every bird mentioned by William Shakespeare into North America. By the 1940s, starlings were common in the Pacific Flyway. In Walla Walla, we see these migratory birds every year.

European Starlings are kept at bay by "Birds in Distress" noises.

European Starling

For obvious reasons, this migratory pattern can result in significant crop losses. (We don’t blame the birds; our grapes are pretty darn delicious!) In response, vineyard growers have been forced to come up with creative solutions to help reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides for wine grapes without sacrificing their crops. Some alternative methods of pest control, such as netting, can be costly and frustrating. It’s also quick to tear, difficult to store, and needs to be replaced every three years or so.

At the Walla Faces Vineyard, we project the distress calls of birds. This audio recording, called “Birds in Distress”, is our only method of bird-control. (We also have a couple of scarecrows, but the birds don’t seem too concerned by them. The scarecrows seem to be less of a pest-control method and more of an accidentally-festive decoration.)

“Birds in Distress” is played during daylight hours. When the birds hear the various distress calls, they feel threatened, and avoid what they assume is a dangerous area. According to the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, broadcasting alarm and distress calls substantially reduces the percentage of crops that are lost to avian munchers.

Anecdotally, we can definitely say that we’ve seen an effect. Thanks to our bird distress-call recording, we’ve been able to keep birds away from the vineyard in the least intrusive, most humane way possible. We’re pretty sure that this is cause for a toast!

Want to feel like you are at the vineyard with us? You can listen to a “Birds in Distress” audio recording here.

Veraison at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard

If you’ve stopped by the vineyard in the past few days, you may have noticed a beautiful thing: Veraison has finally come to the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard!

Veraison is the process by which grapes turn from green to red. Before verasion, the grapes are simply getting bigger; cells divide and expand, resulting in larger and larger grapes. After veraison, grapes begin to ripen: the acidity of the grapes decreases, sugars become concentrated, and chemicals that give off herbaceous aromas degrade, leaving you with a beautiful, fruity scent. The berries will also get much softer. Prior to verasion, the grapes are very firm. Afterwards, they become much more supple. This is also the point at which a keen observer may be able to discern the characteristics of different grape varieties.

We’ve seen veraison in other vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley for weeks now, but the signs are just now appearing on our grapes. There are a few reasons that we see this difference. The first reason is the grape varieties that we grow: Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, takes a very long time to ripen. Vineyards that grow varieties such as Merlot, which ripens much more quickly, will see veraison earlier in August. Indeed, only our Syrah is showing signs of veraison. The Cabernet Sauvignon is usually two or three weeks behind!

The second reason that veraison occurs later for Walla Faces is because of the location of our vineyard. We are at a higher elevation than much of the Walla Walla Valley. Our vineyard is cooler during the Spring and Summer, but warmer during the end of summer, which helps give our wine a nice balance between sugars and acidity. (Our location also helps in autumn and winter. The warmer temperatures in cooler months help protect our grapes from freezing!)

In addition to being one of the later vineyards to see veraison, we are also one the last to harvest! This means we have many more weeks to admire our ripening grapes.

Photos taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on August 16, 2013.