Field Day at Tablas Creek Vineyard

flyways wildways

Annette Pollock discusses the native plants installed to support beneficial species at Tablas Creek Vineyards

In April 2024, about 50 field day participants gathered at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA to learn about how biodiversity can optimize production in wine grape growing. The event was co-hosted by WFA and the Vineyard Team

Unleashing the Power of Beneficial Birds – Jo Ann Baumgartner of Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) shared how bringing nature back to the farm can be the solution to many urgent issues, from insect and bird declines to the overuse of agriculture chemicals. Farmers who grow a multitude of crops across the globe can support birds during the nesting season, and throughout the year, while benefiting from them eating pest insects and rodents. Birds have similar needs to humans, and by providing water, and food and shelter in the form of native plant habitat and nest boxes, they will thrive. A farmer can design their farm to make the most out of birds’ foraging strategies by making different niches available, whether the birds are gleaning insects on trees or row crops, flycatching from branches or aerial diving for rodents. When you diversify the farm, you help to diversify the bird community and their pest control services. 

Plant Species That Optimize Arthropod Pest Biocontrol – Stephen Pryor of WFA discussed how to attract and keep beneficial arthropods in the vineyard system to provide pest control services. Growers can plant both annual and perennial habitat which draws in and nourishes beneficial parasitoids and predators. For example, some of the best annual plants to provide nutrition to wasp parasitoids that attack Grape Leafhoppers are sweet alyssum (Lobaria maritimus) and annual buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Wasp parasitoids also need alternate hosts in which to lay their eggs when these leafhoppers are not available, and perennial plants in the mint family,catnip (Nepeta cataria) and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) will support them. To provide habitat for Green Lacewings that attack leafhoppers, annual sweet alyssum and lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), and perennial toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) can be planted.  

Using Weather Information to Help Understand Spray Drift Risk Mark Battany, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor,gave a demonstration on how scientists measure temperature inversions to assess spray drift risk. Temperature inversions occur when cooler air collects near the surface below a layer of warm air. The layering prevents mixing of air so the spray droplets stay concentrated while moving off site. Spray drift risk causes issues for organic and conventional growers alike. Relevant weather information on temperature inversions is accessible in the San Luis Obispo through UCEE’s Weather Station Network and may be available soon in Santa Barbara County if the grower community there is willing to have this data publicly available. 

Winegrowing with a Whole Systems Approach – Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticultureencourages growers to take a proactive, holistic approach to the management of their vineyards to prevent diseases and support strong vines and healthy root systems. In practice this takes the shape of understanding local environmental conditions that affect vineyards, using keen observations skills and testing before doing treatments. Prudy discussed many mechanisms to optimize labor and help maintain the vineyard without excessive chemical use or expensive equipment.  

Grower Panel – Jordon Lomborg of Tablas Creek, Hillary Graves of Booker Estate of Constellation, and Brennan Stover of Turley Wine Cellars presented on the grower panel, discussing their insights on holistic management of vineyards. Jordon emphasized the bicycle wheel concept for habitat. At the center of the wheel is the hub, and from there spokes, or pathways, support beneficials moving out into the vineyard. These pathways can take the shape of cover crops, hedgerows or other flowering habitat and nest boxes. Hilary discussed how they are integrating regenerative, cost-effective practices such as grazing with sheep and new drone technology to release beneficial insects in the vineyard. Brennan shared his use of fruit trees and native plants to alter the wine’s tastet, giving it unique flavors while harvesting stone fruit and supporting beneficial insects.  

Beneficial Habitat Walk – Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited and Annette Pollock took the group on a tour of the native habitat planting hub, mentioned above. There they spoke about the planting process and about the species that were installed and their functions. Plants were initially planted into the area with the help of Annette, and WFA put in new ones in open areas where plants were missing.This planting utilized a diversity of species that provided year-round floral resources and shelter to support pollinators and natural enemy insects and birds.