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A large array of wildlife and flora—from flocks of wild turkey and herds of deer, to bob cats (even the occasional mountain lion) and coyote—flourish in our vineyards. Dario and our vineyard managers are very sensitive to this and they continue to respect and maintain these habitats. , We encourage beneficial organisms to help us battle any undesirable pests. Small rodents (gophers and voles) eat vine roots and lower areas of the vine trunk, and can cause serious damage, even killing some vines. We have eliminated the use of rodent poisons and now only use mechanical means to control rodents. We are also promoting barn owl habitation as natural predators for gopher control, and try to attract other predatory birds to our vineyards by placing nesting boxes for owls and perches for raptors in the vineyards. This reduces the need for rodent control even more. The owls find the boxes and move in to raise their young, and the hawks are always looking for a suitable “perch” to survey their hunting territory. Because the hawks hunt during the day and the owls hunt at night, together they provide a very effective natural hunting pressure on the rodents. Our vineyards and practices are certified as “Fish-Friendly Farming” which helps to protect the sensitive watershed. We are using bird alarms to deter grape-eating flying creatures.
Insects that feed on grapes (such as mites, leafhoppers and blue-green sharpshooters) can cause significant damage to vines. When these populations are out of balance with their natural predatory insect species the damage can become quite severe. We are using cover crops and hand-weeding instead of pre-emergent herbicides as a way to increase soil fertility. To help keep the insect populations in balance we plant many kinds of cover crops in the vineyards, legumes such as clover and vetch, and oats, grasses and other vegetation. This provide suitable habitat for beneficial predatory insects (such as wasps, spiders and ladybugs) and reduces or eliminates the need for insecticides.
The cover crops also play an important role in stabilizing hillsides by controlling soil erosion, controlling noxious weeds and by adding nutrients and organic material directly back to the soil they enrich the soil micro-environment. They also are a tool for reducing soil moisture, thereby controlling vine vigor better flavor development in the grapes.
We are continually re-evaluating our approach and looking for new ways to enhance the vineyard environment for sustainable farming. For our next steps we are considering nesting boxes for songbirds, bat colony boxes (bats eat a lot of insects --up to 25 percent of their body weight per night), compost and other wildlife habitat to control harmful insects to eventually eliminate all insecticides and chemical fertilizers from our vineyards.
We also purchase grapes from private growers who tend their vineyards with the same care and concern required to make our wines distinctive. These are men and women who understand the importance of proper pruning canopy management and crop thinning to maximize quality. They know how to match a grape variety to the climate at the vineyard site; they have an innate sense of terroir. They are adept at protecting their vines from weather hazards and pests. And they understand vineyards as systems of interconnected parts, and vineyards as parts of larger systems.It is remarkable people such as these who continue to provide the backbone for the wines that make both V. Sattui and the Napa Valley so prominent and revered.