Last month was fruit set: grape flowers bloomed, pollinated, and grew into tiny green, hard, acidic marbles of grapes; the month before, our vines developed their shoots and leaves to photosynthesize sugars to fuel them. With both canopy and fruit established, our vines are well on their way to ripeness and harvest but we’re not out of the jungle yet. Myriad hungry pests and invasive funghi await our growing bunches.
If a wet afternoon squall graces a vineyard (as is common in Europe), farmers must watch for mildew. Latent fungal spores bloom in wet canopies, eating leaves and condemning their fruit never to ripen. Conventional vineyards spray invisible, endocrine disrupting and often carcinogenic fungicides that leach into the soil and destroy beneficial mycorrhizae--yikes! Organic farmers work preventatively with natural mineral oil or may give their vines a light dusting of blue copper sulfate that sunlight activates to stop mildew in its tracks, before it can take hold. Prevention is labor intensive, but effective. Our intrepid berries abide.
Have you ever seen Sir David Attenborough talk about ants farming aphids for the honeydew they produce? In vineyards, ants shepherd vine-sucking, pesticide-resistant mealybugs, a close relative of aphids. In an effort to control them, conventional farmers hit them with super-toxic organophosphates (that aren’t washed from grapes before they’re harvested, fermented and in bottles–so their customers get some, too), inadvertently killing helpful predators like the aptly named black and orange ladybug relative mealybug destroyer. Good farmers cultivate biodiversity with cover crops to encourage the destroyer, parasitic wasps, and other helpful predators to live in their vineyards and do what they do best. Grapes evolved in the jungle.
Phew! Next month is veraison, when the berries are finally ready to taste.