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Vineyard insectaries attract beneficial bugs, feed birds that eat the others

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Nov. 6, 2021 series
  • Updated

“Attract the good bugs, and birds to eat the bad bugs.”

When facing the elements, viticulturists are willing to do just about anything to safely and naturally solve their disease and biodiversity woes. So when one such solution — or rather part of the solution — takes the form of beautiful blooms and buzzing bees, it's not hard to imagine why so many California vineyards use insectaries as an asset.

One such vineyard is the Groth estate in Napa Valley’s Oakville, where Suzanne Groth and vineyard manager Ben Forgeron are working to attract beneficial insects like butterflies, ladybugs, bees and aphid-killing parasitic wasps.

“We are operating on attracting, feeding and housing the pollinator and predator,” said Groth. “The trees, shrubs and grasses attract all of these, and diversify our insect, bird, and reptile population.”

For example, Groth staff have chosen to plant yarrow — scientific name Achillea millefolium Paprika — to attract ladybugs, which will then (hopefully) eat disease-spreading leafhoppers before they can infect the vineyard.

“We’ve also planted California Lilac (Ceanothus) to encourage the lacewing population that combats the mealybugs that spread mold and virus in the vineyard,” said Groth. “All in all we are hoping to encourage the bugs to balance each other out to eliminate the need for any chemical intervention … This is just one tool in the belt of Ben Forgeron.”

Groth says Forgeron can also use hormone therapy — or sexual confusion — to attract certain insects and make it difficult for them to find a mate.

“Like the European Grapevine Moth,” she said.

Over in Alexander Valley, Jordan Winery is also fostering a thriving insectary, and in this past year alone, planted more than 3,400 plants across 100 different species on their properties. As part of this project, Jordan went through a total of 200 pounds of seed and planted approximately 600 milkweed plugs to support the at-risk Western Monarch butterfly.

“Native grasses, annual and perennial wildflowers, scrubs and trees were also integrated to provide year-round floral resources and nesting habitats,” said Brent Young, Jordan's Director of Agriculture. “The blooms from seed are expected to take approximately three years to emerge and begin attracting pollinators, and additional sites have been identified for pollinator sanctuaries and their plantings.”

“The winery expects around 10 acres to be dedicated to pollinator sanctuaries in total over three years.”

According to Young, this 3-year project will result in the largest dedicated pollinator habitat of all Bee Friendly Farming-certified vineyards nationwide, attracting native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds and butterflies with specific plant species. These insects also will provide pollination for flowering and edible plants, which will then nourish the bird and bat populations that defend the vineyard from pests.

“With the alarming disruption of pollinator habitats due to wildfires and climate-related challenges, Jordan saw an opportunity to do more for these beneficial insects beyond giving them plenty of wildland to forage,” said Young. “Pollinators are vital to maintaining a healthy and balanced vineyard ecosystem that requires less human intervention from a viticultural standpoint, [and] although they do not directly pollinate grapevines, bees, honeybees and other native insects act as the primary pollinators for cover crops grown between the vines, which naturally replenish important soil nutrients.”

After undergoing river restoration projects near Gamble Family Vineyards, Tom Gamble shows its functionality following a heavy rainfall. Courtesy of Gamble Family Vineyards.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and

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Napa Valley wine industry reporter

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