Ninth Excerpt – Winegrower

We also trialled selected sonic bird-scaring equipment sourced through a cousin of Jennie’s, Andi Flower, based in Australia, representing an American manufacturer, again without any significant success. The product was branded under the name Bird Guard. The issues were mainly around setting up the system, installation of speakers, maintenance of batteries, controlling the bird calls (distress and others ), and maintenance of the equipment. It also proved to be an expensive option. Again, we persevered for a couple of seasons before consigning the equipment to storage, never to be used again.

Another option trialled was to use mirrors mounted on a 3- legged stand which rotated with the wind and flashed in the sunlight. This ,too, proved to be ineffective and was soon abandoned. By this time we had accumulated a collection of curious bits and pieces of equipment, all of little practical use to anyone.

The final solution, adopted for the 2004 season, was to go with multi-row nets which covered 4 rows at a time. These nets had been manufactured to suit the layout of our vineyard canopy, with good tolerance to achieve best positioning and coverage. The large rolls of netting came on spools and were heavy to handle. They required an applicator mounted on the back of the tractor operated by a vineyard worker to uncoil them. As the net unrolled the tension was maintained by having a another vineyard worker on each of the outside rows pulling the netting down and into place as the tractor, in the middle of the rows, was driven slowly ahead. The netting was later clipped into place on the outside rows, usually to a wire laid at ground level, and also secured at the ends of the rows. The outer edge of the outside rows was still exposed to bird attack. To overcome this, metal brackets were temporarily attached to the intermediate posts over which the netting was draped, which created a balloon affect and kept the netting away from the fruit. This strategy proved very effective and was used for all our harvests thereafter.

Even with the multi-row nets covering the whole vineyard, there was still surveillance required on a daily basis, to ensure best protection. Regular movement, on foot and/or riding the Honda quad bike, the noisier the better, through the vineyard, was essential to keeping the birds unsettled during daylight hours. We would also regularly open up the ends of the nets to allow access for ongoing work on the vines and to flush out any birds. To achieve this, we would start at one end of the covered rows, carrying tins with stones inside, rattling them vigorously as we walked bent over under the netting through to the other end- spooking any intruders ahead of us. We needed to be ever vigilant in our bird patrols and in ensuring that the nets were secure, particularly at times of high winds. You could expect some damage to nets from time to time-whether from rabbits chewing through them, tearing due to the wind, or even hawks catching on the top of the canopy. These could usually be repaired in a practical way for the next season.

As backup, we always encouraged the hawks over the summer months with offerings of dead rabbits, which we secured on the top of posts for best results. The rabbits came from our own property – we had the services of a sharp-shooter from the city, Lou Donaggio, who needed any opportunity to visit and do his thing. The presence of hawks was an added weapon in our fight against the enemy – unsettling the starlings in particular, though not entirely. It was not uncommon to witness the sight of a black mass of starlings on the wing, harassing a lone hawk and driving it off the vineyard. Magpies too, on occasion, would gang up on a lone hawk and bully it, in an aerial display above the vineyard. The hawks were our friend. We derived much pleasure from watching them circle over the vineyard, diving and gliding in harmony with the air currents, all grace and style- at once elegant and predatory.

In the latter years of our time at Fiddler’s Green we observed that the bird pressure at harvest time had eased somewhat. We put this down to the growth in the number of vineyards across the Waipara Valley, which ensured a wider range of potential feeding options for the bird populations to explore.

We never had our own winery. All winemaking services for our Fiddler’s Green wines were out-sourced from established wineries in the Waipara Valley. In the early years we used the services of Waipara West where Petter Evans was the winemaker. When Peter moved to Sherwood Estate in 2002 his successor at Waipara West was Rob Lowe. Others involved in making our wines have included Belinda Gould at Muddy Water, Frank Manifold at Waipara Springs, Nicholas Brown at Omihi Hills, Peter Saunders of Bishops Head, and Mat Donaldson of Pegasus Bay.

From very early on our wines gained a reputation for their consistency of quality and style. To have achieved this against a background of multiple winemakers’, is testimony to the quality of the fruit harvested from year to year.  The vineyard was the essential constant in our production cycle. The other  key player was our eldest son, Ben, who ensured that the vineyard was managed to the highest standards of sustainable winegrowing.

Every growing season proved to be different and presented its own challenges. The wines produced spoke of their vintage differences and individuality. For Jennie and I the golden days of autumn made for our favourite time of the year; temperate and yielding as the harvest was embraced.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

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