Sunday, April 5, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

On one of our Cerro Prieto Vineyard & Cellars vineyard tours this week, I was noticing how things have changed just in the last 4 weeks since we have been conducting tours. First off a note about the visitors we have had. All have been not only interested, they have been interesting. All have succeeded in their endeavors in one way or another, all are open to learning new things, and all have been treated to the many fascinating things Cerro Prieto Vineyard has to offer.

Take the Barn owls for example. They are our best friends as far as keeping the gopher population in check. Of our 7 owl houses, 3 are currently in use with a pair of young owlets inside. Parents patrol the vineyard at night when gophers are working, and usually nab half a dozen or more gophers per nite. How do I know this? Well simply by counting the gopher skulls, ribs, and pelvic bones under each roost in the morning. This has been an excellent adjunct to gopher control but does have one glitch: we have 3 families of Great Horned Owls above the vineyard, and their favorite food? Barn owls. Oh well.

Going thru the vineyard rows, it is interesting to note that the magnificent floral displays of orange and yellow calendulas, orange and yellow poppies,the red Marinum variety of the California poppy, the bluish purple stinging nettle, and 4 different kinds of clover---bull red, yellow, white, and a pink--- have now crowded out the other flowers, so they can produce and flower, then re-seed. In hotter more elevated areas, where drought accelerates a changing of the guard, the clover has given way to the wild radish of all hues, (pink, yellow, purple, white), and the omnipresent mustard weed, soon to flower out in its yellow glory. Not present but coming, is the pesky and aggressive yellow star, with spikes so tough they can puncture a tire. Also seen in the lower cooler valley areas are masses of filaree, with its purple flower, now going to seed. For cattle this little plant is said to have the maximum nutrition on a weight basis of all cattle feed. We like it for its abiltity to reseed, especially on steep inclines, or terraces between rows, thus becoming soil holders in our incredibly steep vineyard.

In the sky, there are circling "sapolotes", or turkey vultures, which keep the vineyard clean of carrion. Coyotes, ever present inside and out of the vineyard's deer fence, kill wood rats, mice, gophers, the hapless jackrabbit, an occasional cat, ground squirrels, rarely a wild turkey, and the dozens of grape eating Valley Quail. Coyotes then become food for the aggressive badger with his long claws and file-like teeth. Our occasional lynx lunches on all the above plus will take a coyote, if the coyote gets careless. King of the heap is a mountain lion, rarely present, but sure to be here if a deer somehow squeezes thru a coyote hole dug under our deer fence. All in all, it is truly survival of the fittest in the vineyard, which is replayed dozens of times a day, week in and week out. We can show visitors some or many of the "survivors", but it is the perpetual repeat of this scenario that fascinates me.

Everyday, hundreds of people visit wineries to sample different wines. Pity they don't take the time while here to see what the really interesting goings on actually are. Those folks who have taken our tour and later bought our low yield premium wines have not just a knowledge of the wines they now drink, but also a bit of understanding on how eco systems in the vineyard work, how all are inter-related, and how virtually most, if not all, contribute to the terroir of this dynamic, constantly changing vineyard. Currently we are starting bud break in our higher mountainside/hillside areas, while the colder pinot valleys are still dormant( thank goodness). We have continued to have below freezing nites in our valleys, and somehow, someway, those dog-goned Pinot vines know not to be tricked into budding out by the heat of the day. Somehow they just know not to bud out which would then cause the new buds to freeze off.

Anyone who doubts survival of the fittest needs spend no more than a couple of hours here when the Red tailed hawks screech, then swoop down, talons extended, and scoop up a gopher. The rest of the story is equally majestic. How lucky for some wine lovers to first see what a breathing, living, complicated, intricate dance of life this vineyard is. There are some very lucky people to have seen it. We know they now enjoy our wines so much more for having seen and observed "Survival of the Fittest. You should try it sometime; it is captivating.


  1. Hi Bonjour

    Grâce à votre texte ci-haut, j'ai appris plein de choses sur le maintien d'une vigne. Article vraiment intéressant. Grand merci. :o)

  2. Thank you for sharing these thoughts about the Cerro Prieto ecosystem. It is very interesting-both via blog and in person.

  3. F.R.E.D.E.S.K. De rien.
    Larry Stanton

  4. Demi, we enjoyed your and Jeff's visit, and are glad to know that you folks enjoyed yourselves. Right now we are in heat of bud break, not only up top, but down in the cold Pinot valleys. This is the time we enjoy the lovely spring days but "sweat out" the extremely cold nites. In the upper Syrah at present, in the early morning lite, the newly green syrah leaves are surrounded by a reddish hued periphery, which I am attmepting to capture with my digital camera and post on blog. Foggy mornings, however, are dampening prospects for photographing the lovely "halo" effect of syrah leaves with dawn's first lite behind them. Keep checking the blog, and ultimately I will catch this effect on film. It only lasts a few days so I need a break in the morning fog. It'll come shortly. Larry Stanton