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Nature’s Partners - How Wildlife Thrives in Organic Vineyards for Superior Wine

Updated: May 28, 2023

Organic wine growing is at the heart of what we do here at Mountford Wines. When winemakers choose sustainable growing and make wine with minimal intervention, it’s better for the planet and healthier for those who drink it than grapes sprayed with chemicals and wine drowned in preservatives.

Running an organic vineyard means embracing the incredible contributions of insects and wildlife and protecting their habitats.

Beneficial bugs are vital for nurturing the grapevines, and the hidden ecosystem within organic vineyards can hold secrets to crafting wine as remarkable as the land the grapes have sprung from. It’s a delicate balance between enhancing good insects and naturally controlling pests that can wreak havoc on grapevines.

How Bugs and Wildlife Support Organic Grape Growers

By partnering with nature we restore, improve and balance biodiversity.

We do this by encouraging native flora and fauna to thrive and implementing careful organic practices and carbon-positive growing. This helps maintain a balanced ecosystem and reduces the reliance on synthetic pesticides.

You can taste it in the quality of the wine, too.

Insect Interactions

From vibrant butterflies to diligent bees and elusive marsupials, here are some ways bugs and wildlife can contribute:

  • Natural pest and weed control keep pest populations in check without relying on chemical pesticides. Our fertiliser comes from our vineyard chickens

  • Insect pollinators such as butterflies and bees ensure the production of healthy grapes, which is particularly important for organic wine growing and avoiding synthetic pesticides

  • Spiders are helpful thanks to their diet, giving them a strong stabilising influence on pests. They eat pests such as apple moths and vine moth eggs, as well as mosquitoes and caterpillars

  • Western pygmy possums play a vital role in pollination, feeding on the nectar of native plants found in the southwest of Western Australia. Because they aid in the cross-pollination of various plant species they foster healthy organic growing conditions

  • Ladybirds are beneficial bugs because they’re active generalist feeders. They love mites, moth eggs, scale and aphids

  • Numbats’ diet and digging activities create favourable conditions for organic growth. They feed on termites and disturb the soil with their small claws which promote nutrient cycling. This process aids in the breakdown of organic material and the release of essential nutrients for plant growth

Friends in our Organic Vineyard in Pemberton

Whether a beneficial bug or a domestic friend, here are some common insects and animals in our organic vineyard.

Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dorsalis)

The Western Banjo Frog plays a crucial role in creating optimal growing conditions for organic vineyards. This fascinating amphibian is native to WA and adept at burrowing in sandy soils, often quite a distance from water.

As it digs into the ground, it churns and aerates the soil, allowing for better water infiltration and nutrient distribution. The burrows also act as natural water reservoirs and shelters, collecting rainwater and providing protection to small insects and spiders. Fungi, microorganisms and beneficial bacteria thrive in these caves, contributing to biodiversity.

The frog has a stout body with distinctive markings. The dorsalis term comes from the line along its back, but it’s not a fin! Its name comes from the sound it produces, reminiscent of the twangy notes of a banjo. But it’s not the frog’s vocal abilities that make it an ecological hero! Rather its remarkable burrowing activities that fosters diverse organisms.

Motorbike Frog (Littoria moorei)

Classed as a tree frog, the Motorbike Frog is a noisy but incredible friend in our organic winery in Pemberton. The first time we heard this guy, we thought someone was cutting down a tree in the woods! What a crazy sound, it’s like someone is playing a joke on you.

Motorbike Frogs live on the ground, or in our case, the vineyard. The most remarkable feature is their diet. Unlike other frog species, this frog has a particular preference for harmful pests that plague vineyards, such as snails and slugs. These pests can cause significant damage to the grapevines and affect the quality of the harvest. By consuming them, Motorbike Frogs act as natural pest controllers.

Slender Tree Frog (Littoria adelaidensis)

The presence of the Slender Tree Frog in cool-climate wine regions serves as an indicator of a well-balanced ecosystem. Lucky for us, we have a few at our organic winery and cidery! The poor thing has no close relatives - it's only found in the southwest of WA and is a survivor of wetter and earlier times.

Tree Frogs are natural pest controllers due to their diet. The waste they produce from the insects consumed is a natural fertiliser, with valuable nutrients that enrich the soil and growth of healthy grapevines.

Praying Mantis (Mantodea)

The Praying Mantis is an effective predator in the vineyard. It doesn’t play Timpani drums, but it has tympanic hearing, meaning sounds are amplified. While many insects rely on their sense of touch or sight to detect prey, the Praying Mantis takes it a step further by utilising its ultrasonic sound receptors; a high-frequency sound humans can’t hear.

This unique hearing ability gives the mantis an advantage in locating and capturing small insects such as leafhoppers and caterpillars, which are common vineyard pests. Its appetite also makes it an excellent biological control for bad bugs, munching on aphids and preying on insect pests.

Stick Insect (Phasmatodea)

The stick insect, also known as the walking stick or phasmid, is a natural predator in the vineyard. Phasma is the Latin word for phantom appearance, which is fitting for these ghost-like insects. They're known for their incredible ability to mimic twigs, making them blend seamlessly with the surrounding foliage.

Stick insects feed on leaves, tender shoots and other plant matter. This ability to devour large quantities of plant material allows them to control pest populations, preventing them from reaching damaging levels. Additionally, stick insects can attract bats, which are useful for devouring crop-damaging insects. Their remarkable camouflage and hunting skills provide organic growers with a sustainable environment that minimises the need for chemical interventions.

They’re also called Devil's Darning Needles because of their long, slender bodies resembling needles.

Bush Orb Spider (Plebs eburnus)

This spider is very common around here. Sometimes, there are so many the tractor will become festooned in them and their webs as you drive between the vines.

The intricate and large orb-shaped webs are strategically positioned in the vineyard, between grapevine rows or near vegetation, to capture flying insects. It’s the design and size of the webs that enable the Bush Spider to efficiently capture pests such as fruit flies and gnats, which causes damage to fruit.

While they are harmless to humans, it's a scary experience watching them make their way towards you over the tractor bonnet. One year, a member of the Mountford family was helping pick grapes and jumped off the tractor at the sight of them all!

Maremma Dogs

Italian sheepdogs (or Marremanno Abruzzese if you're Italian) are supposed to come in at 30-45 kilos. But, ours start at 45 kilos and finish at 65 kilos.

Maybe we feed them too much or they’re lazy! These types of dogs are usually bred to look after sheep, although, our two look after the chooks and keep the organic winery and vineyard in check. Sally and Bailey are brother and sister. They'll never miss the opportunity for a pat from cellar door visitors.

Organic Vineyard Chickens

Our on-farm, from dawn to dusk resident workers. These chooks are our full-time weeders, pest controllers and natural fertilisers that help maintain the vineyard. What more could you want? Of course, we get the odd organic egg from them as well!

Chooks are adept at hunting insect pests like grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars. We allow them to roam freely within the vineyard, which reduces pest populations.

They also have a natural inclination to eat various types of weeds and grasses, reducing weed competition for the grapevines. Their constant scratching and foraging activities disturb weed seeds and prevent their germination. By utilising chickens for weed control, we minimise herbicides and promote a more sustainable approach to our vineyard management.

Want to learn more about our carbon-positive organic winery and cidery?

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