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OH the outdoor life. My day of rest this weekend was spent lending a hand to a couple of aspiring local vignerons that needed to attend to their bird problem.

This was no simple accomplishment as it came all too soon after my introduction to a few local wines the night before. 

The day’s activities were centred around covering vines with netting that serves the purpose of stopping the hungry Silvereyes (Zosterops) and the birds commonly known as 28 Parrots from attacking the grapes as they ripen into perfect berries full of the lively juice from which the 2003 vintage will be produced.

The main problem with the birds revolves around the lack of blossom.

Yes I know it can happen to all of us but the lack of blossom is a particular problem down here in Margaret River at the moment.

When the blossom is not in full bloom on the marri/redgum trees the birds need to go in search of another food source and in wine country that food becomes grapes. 

The blossom is only just beginning to appear and is not looking abundant, so it appears that unless vineyards with a bird problem net their vines then they may find it difficult to protect their precious asset.

When you are driving past vineyards and see the vines covered in netting it is not to keep the vineyard workers from nicking off surfing but to protect against pesky birds picking at the berries.

The Silvereyes are the major problem as they simply peck and puncture the berries, causing them to lose their juice. However, more importantly, this can lead to disease forming in the bunches. The Silvereyes only appear in large numbers from January through to April when their natural food source decreases in their coastal breeding grounds forcing them inland and into vineyards.

One of the more common characters you find in berries and wine that have been affected by bird damage is an acidic character because after pecking a hole in the berry the Silvereyes tend to only take a quick taste of sugar and a bit of moisture. One viticulturist told me that before netting was introduced his vineyard was losing up to five tonnes a day.

Viticulturists have tried a number of methods aimed at keeping the birds away from the fruit on the vine including using falcons (Vasse Felix logo), sirens, scare crows, gas guns, ballons with pictures of hawks on them, and even the trusty old shotgun, before settling on nets towards the early 1990s.

Devils Lair was among the first wineries to use netting and as viticulturist Simon Robertson explains, many thought they were more than a little odd when they were first put out.

“We first started using netting for the 1993 vintage after some advice from Oenotech consultant Garry Baldwin,” he said.

“Brookland Valley and Voyager Estate were, at the time, the only other people using this innovative technique.

“We did get some rather odd comments about us using nets and whether or not they were effective or not. Today it is the common practise and considered essential.”

Bird nets cost around 30 cents per square meter, which works out at around $150 per hectare to put out the nets and another $130 to pull the nets back in. There is an initial set up cost of around $4,000 per hectare depending on the quality of nets, plus a net applying machine for around another $7,000.

Alternatively, if you were using a contactor the associated cost would be around 20 cents per lineal meter or about $300 per hectare.

This all adds about 30 cents to the retail shelf price of a bottle that sells for $15. Quite an appreciable cost for keeping birds at bay.

Nets are not 100 per cent bird proof but come close.

A few people have been concerned that the the berries development will be affected by the new micro climate that is formed when the nets are applied but most viticulturist believe that the change is minimal – especially when it is weighed against the loss of fruit.

Porongurup’s 2003 Wine Festival is on again Sunday March 2 at Dukes Vineyard, located halfway along Porongurup Road.

This year’s festival will feature wines from 10 local wineries, the annual Porongurup Grape Stomp, local arts and crafts and plenty of entertainment for the kids, including an animal farm, bouncy castle and train rides.

Jazz band The Stevedores will feature throughout the afternoon and buses are available from both Mt Barker and Albany.

Tickets are just $10 and kids get in for free. Contact 9853 1107 for more details.

Alkoomi 1999 Blackbutt rrp $60 19/20

Without question this is the best Blackbutt I have seen.

A blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and merlot there is plenty on offer in this wine. Aromas combine blackcurrant, cassis and blackberry fruits with integrated spice and oak influences.  The palate is concentrated with elegant fruit, fine tannins, complementing oak and amazing length.

Stonehaven 2001 Viognier rrp $16 18/20

This wine is only made in tiny quantities, so maybe hard to find but it is well worth tracking down.

Expressive varietal fruit characters showing fragrant aromas of apricots, nectarines, a touch of ginger spice and citrus notes.  The fruit on the palate mirrors the aromatics. Scrumptious, refreshing acidity and plenty of length, make this wine a real delight.

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