"It’s no mistake that an animal noted for its nose has become wine’s mascot. In California, that nose is being put to use to sniff out disease in the vines. Vintners donated $33,000 to a project to train golden retrievers to sniff out and identify the vine mealybug, which can contaminate grape clusters with larvae and egg sacs, killing the vine itself within five years. The dogs are being trained to detect the pest early by smelling out its sex pheromones; once trained, they are expected to bark when they encounter the smell in the vineyards.
Dogs aren’t the only animals helping out in the vineyards, though. As I mentioned before, winegrowers in California and New Zealand are using falcons and other predatory birds to protect their grapes from other birds such as starlings, which like to eat grapes. The more traditional alternatives include expensive netting over the vines, visual repellents (scarecrows, of a sort) that startle invasive birds, or even loud noises or recordings of birds in distress. Using falcons is a natural, organic approach, especially in Marlborough’s case, where the birds themselves need the help to repopulate.
In California Getty Pollard’s company B-1RD has developed the Vineyard Falcon Crop Protection program, which uses trained falcons. The falcons don’t hunt down and kill starlings in the vineyards; their very presence is enough to discourage the starlings from swooping down and landing for a meal. The falcons got their first test at Gallo’s Two Rock Vineyard in Sonoma in 2004; Dennis Devitt, the winegrowing manager, considered them very effective and successful.
Other animals can contribute as well. Some of the biodynamic vineyards in Alsace are grazed by sheep, controlling the cover crop and fertilizing at the same time. Many sheep also roam the vineyards of New Zealand; some growers let them remain there during the growing season, when they nibble at the vines’ leaves, thereby trimming back the canopy and exposing the grapes to direct sunlight. Biodynamic theory holds that monocultural farms – farms with only one crop – are naturally imbalanced; the mixture of different crops and animals makes a better, healthier ecosystem. Grazing sheep and horse-driven plows help redress the imbalance (The horse-driven plow reduces compaction of the soil.)."