Or, the discoveries of integrated pest management…

CATS: My first lesson came just after I arrived in California… while waiting for a full-time job at a winery. I had secured a part-time job at Belvedere, who had a winery cat. Watching that cat turned into a project that was such a fun. I had no idea where I was headed, which was the beginning of understanding integrated pest management.

Belvedere had a cat Smoky, and I watched how visitors to Belvedere just fawned over her… At least, the cat people did, and there were plenty of them.

So, I got this bright idea, once several people said, “Oh we were just down the road at Alderbrook (or Mill Creek, or Armida, or Mark West), and we just saw their cat. That made me realize that there were other cats. The photographer in me took over, especially since I had a bit of time to undertake a project. This was in 1993 and 1994… Long before any other winery cats, dogs, or birds were even thought of as wine industry story fodder.

Off I went, and I learned a lot as I photographed a ton of cats, all over the place; Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake County, et al.

The lesson I learned about integrated pest management was this… Wineries have cats because they keep the rodent population down (that’s the usual reason). If the cats don’t do it, the rattlesnakes will (that’s the unusual reason). The stories I heard could fill a book, but then… I got full time work, and didn’t have a patron to launch that project.

I did get to publish a winery cat story, entitled, Cat O’Wine Tales in The Wine News. And, last year I launch a Winery Cats Website, with the help of my Webmaster husband. Wine writer Millie Howie was calling me the Cat Lady long before she was calling me by my name, as that reputation preceded my reputation as a wine industry publicist… Word was out on the woman who was photographing cats, Millie later told me.

BIRDS: Along the way, I spied these boxes beginning to dot the landscape. I soon discovered that they’re strategically placed owl boxes. As owls and hawks take up residence, the balance between birds and rodents is in full play.

BATS: Next, Jose and I had dinner with RCA’s music rep Beverly Stevens. (Jose was still in radio, and part of his job was meeting with the recording artist liaisons. This usually involved dinner meetings. Jose, Beverly, and I went to Topolos in Forestville. Little did we know that as dusk, bats in the belfry would begin to emerge one-by-one, until it became a myriadic frenzy, until all of the bats had completely cleared out form their sleeping location, and had completely swooped down into the vineyard to dine of any pests they could find.

DOGS: Now, I just read something that’s remarkable about dogs… It’s a story that just appeared in Northbay BIZ magazine in the February issue. It’s entitled, “The Nose Knows,” written by Alexandra Russell. The story is about Santa Rosa’s Assistance Dog Institute offering a “sweet solution to vineyard pest woes.” Dogs are now being trained to sniff out the pheromone of the female vine mealybug. This insect is so dangerous to a vineyard that it can wipe out an entire crop.

It’s such a threat that at last year’s Foppiano Annual Petite Sirah Noble Symposium (for which I’m the project and program manager), we had a session just on this subject, delivered by Lucia Varela of UC Davis’s Extension office. Lucia earned a B.S. in biochemistry from UCLA and took her doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1990. This is how serious vineyard diseases are, for our billion-dollar, California wine industry, and the simplest of all solutions might be man’s best friend (women’s best friend, too, by the way).

Integrated pest management is one solution to having better wine… Wine less impacted by a chemical solution, when other solutions exist, and someone’s willing to take the time to employ those solutions first and foremost.