Cooperage Matters: A Blend of Science, Technology and Craftsmanship

By: Gerald Dlubala

Whether the choice is wood, stainless steel or a hybrid combination, barrel makers have unique processes they follow to provide the best possible vessel to their customers. Each type of barrel has had successful wines poured from them. The key is to be consistent in supplying a quality barrel to the customer so that they may, in turn, deliver a quality product to their consumers.

The Certainty Of Science: Trust Cooperage

“We apply science to craft,” says James Molnar, President of Trust Cooperage. Exclusively an oak barrel crafter, Trust cooperage uses predominantly Hungarian Oak in their manufacturing process. They are the largest cooperage East of France, with lab services and a quartet of technicians that look at, study and evaluate wine daily. Additionally, they have a wine cellar on premises to regularly perform wine trials and experiments using their barrels.

“When looking for a quality barrel supplier, it’s critical to look for consistency, the credibility of the oak staves used, control over their oak resources, employees with a lab or technical background, and a consistent and reliable stave supply chain,” Molnar says. “You want someone with a well-informed, quality background working with you, not a career salesman that just happens to be selling barrels.”

Trust has that control over their supply chain, with the ability to screen all components going into their barrels. Their Hungarian oak barrels are crafted only from interior split wood and aged a minimum of two to three years. The staves are organized and stacked loosely on a custom-built concrete pad in a clean, pristine, and breezy location for maximum ventilation, easy rotation and natural seasoning in the sun, wind and rain. Aging them this way purges the harsh tannins and other impurities before they get preheated for shaping and toasted to the desired level of aroma and flavors needed. Everything is stringently controlled, including the temperature, time and exposure to flame. The finishing is controlled by hand before the barrel is closed and pressure tested.

“Our wine barrels are definitely made to last,” says Molnar. “They average a lifespan of three to four aging cycles within the winery before being repurposed into beer barrels, scotch barrels or casks for Caribbean rums. We use our carbon filtered well-water and Airocide units to wash and sterilize the barrels. Then they’re stored in a pristine, climate-controlled atmosphere year-round until wrapped for shipment to our customers.”

Trust also provides oak for alternative methods of fermenting and aging, usually in stainless-steel tanks. They supply staves, wood chips, wooden bullets and wooden pass through sticks to achieve different effects in neutral barrels and fermentation tanks.

Technology And Tradition: East Coast Wood Barrels

George Voicu, Master Cooper of East Coast Wood Barrels, stresses balance in his wood shop, barrel making, and in life. His approach to coopering is a blend between traditional craftsmanship and personally customized technology.

“As a first step in our barrel supply process, we take time to communicate with our customers, assessing their needs and providing suitable product recommendations. Then, the shop utilizes the tools and processes that I have modified and refined through my years of experience. I remain hands on to ensure that only quality materials are included in our barrel assembly process,” says Voicu. “In the final stages, the barrel bending, toasting and charring are all accomplished using a natural wood fire and bellows system. Rounding out our extreme and traditional craftsmanship qualities is the ability to finish the barrel off with custom laser engraving.”

Voicu sources his American white oak, which he calls his foundation, from local mills around Virginia, central Pennsylvania, and New York, while sticking to the Carpathian basin and Transylvania regions of Romania for his European and Hungarian oak supply.

“Wooden barrels have that ability to breathe and oxygenate the contents,” says Voicu. “That unique ability imparts an unmistakable finishing quality in wines that consumers recognize and appreciate. Our barrels are suited for all varietals because of our willingness to use a variety of woods, and their structural integrity far outlasts the wood’s inherent finishing capacity, which ultimately led to my patented wood-stainless hybrid barrel system.”

“Stainless tank and keg systems typically attempt to shut out the outside atmosphere, where a traditional wood barrel breathes. This fact is both blessing and curse,” says Voicu, “as wood barrel oxygenation promotes the chemical reactions in maturation and finish those producers want, yet also threatens longer-storage (vintage) wines with spoilage. Our stainless-steel hybrid system is a secure, workable, and easy to clean solution which promotes in-barrel micro-oxygenation through a traditional wood head; the hybrid design reduces exposure to the outside environment but does not eliminate it. Our hybrid clients also appreciate the flexibility of the removable wood inserter system, where wood to volume ratios and mixable wood profiles can be user adjusted.”

As to his wooden barrels, Voicu says that barrel lifespan is never a question, but whether empty or full, the barrels need consistent and stable storage conditions in environments that support wine finishing.

“The food grade stainless body of the hybrid, when properly handled, should last well past thirty years,” says Voicu. “The internal cylinder is free from extra features that capture contaminants, so cleaning is very simple once the heads and staves are removed. The wood components of the system can then be reused like traditional barrels, or economically replaced after each batch.”

Voicu loves that there has been an uptick in small and amateur wine and spirit producers. He encourages the practice with one bit of advice on barrel aging. “There are many barrel options available, and they are not all created equal. When you reflect upon current market forces and increased pressure upon our forests for higher quality wood required for barrels, alternative storage systems that match or exceed the performance of traditional vessels can make great sense and should be considered. Especially in current conditions, when quality stave wood is in high demand due to the wet 2018 and increased pressure from the mills and manufacturing processes.”

What’s Old is New Again: ReCoop Barrels

Lori Adams is the Director Of Business Development for ReCoop Barrels, a nationwide provider of reconditioned oak barrels. Her customers include wineries, distillers and craft brewers. Located in the heart of Sonoma County, she says she has the unique advantage of easy access to excellent barrels for the reconditioning process.

“We get barrels from partner wineries that have proven maintenance standards and systems,” says Adams. “Others bring in their barrels for reconditioning. We perform a barrel assessment for overall cleanliness, acceptable hydration levels, and stave quality, thickness and general condition. We also look at the winery’s practices as to how they store and maintain their barrels while using them. We’ve also learned that some cooperages don’t do well being toasted a second time. It’s an overall qualification process.”

Because there are no standards or rules for disclosing the use of reconditioned barrels, Adams says that typically large production wineries will not reveal that they are using reconditioned barrels. The medium and smaller producers, however, are generally eager to let the community and their customers know that they are sustainable.

“We don’t keep our reconditioned barrels long term,” says Adams. “We keep our product moving to ensure freshness and maximum usability. With a quality reconditioned barrel, you’ll get another two years of oak extraction out of it. Thereafter, depending on how the customer maintains their barrels, it can be used as neutral once again. It’s just another way to save costs.”

ReCoop is the second oldest manufacturer of reconditioned oak barrels, large and small, and Adams believes that the future is only going to get better.

“We have paid our dues, and now have some of the best winemakers in the world currently using our barrels,” Adams says. “I believe using reconditioned barrels is the future.”

Views From The Vineyard

John Falcone, General Manager and Director of Winemaking at Gainey Vineyards in Santa Ynez, California, uses both wood and stainless in his winemaking, sometimes for the same wine. He replaces a percentage of his older, retired barrels each year, and says his key to producing great wines year after year is consistency in the barrels.

“The whole point is to find a barrel signature that fits the style of wine you want to put out, and then practice consistency. Our barrel lifespan is about six to seven years, transitioning to different wine varietals throughout that time. There are many barrel producers out there, and they all have a story about their wood origins, but sometimes even they are wrong about the source of their supplies, so it’s important to constantly taste from your new barrels to make sure the flavor profile is consistent. The more bells and whistles you want your wine to possess, the more oak power you need in a barrel. Less oak forward barrel aging and fermenting will give you a wine that’s more fruit forward. You need to find a balance that fits your needs.”

All of Gainey’s red wines are barrel aged, needing the flavor and structure that comes from the slow exchange of oxygen in a wood barrel. It results in smoother tasting wine. Some of their white varietals prefer the neutrality of flavor that happens with stainless steel tanks. The tanks are airtight, with no chance of interacting with light or additional aromatics. These wines tend to be more faithful to the natural refreshing fruit essence of the wine. However, Falcone says that even these wines can be run through an older wooden barrel for a couple of weeks before finishing in stainless steel.

“The key is keeping these barrels consistent and serviceable,” says Falcone. “It’s important to stay on a routine. We keep them in cold storage and every six to eight weeks we give them a quick rinse to keep them fresh and swollen and then gas them.

Routine and consistency are also crucial to Silver Oak Winery in both Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, California. They use only American white oak and French oak, so it’s critical they have a reliable, consistent barrel supplier to meet the demands of the award-winning vintner.

“We use, at least, ninety-year-old American and French oak for our barrels,” says Vanessa Hart, Enologist at Silver Oak. “It has the straightest grain with the least number of knots. Surprisingly, very little of the wood is used for barrel staves. It’s only the wood that starts six to eight inches above ground up to the first branches.”

“American oak has more potential for stronger flavor and aromatics when compared to French oak, so that goes into the decision on what type of barrel we use for each wine,” says Nate Weis, Vice President of wine growing at Silver Oak. “American oak trees are grown in roughly thirty states now and are subject to the same variances in their life as grapevines are, meaning the ground they are grown on, the landscape, climate, and nutritional availability. Where they are grown matters, so routine tastings are a must to keep a consistent product.”

Choosing Wine Closures: Cost-Effectiveness, Benefits & Trends

By: Alyssa Ochs

With wine, it’s not only important to control what’s inside the bottles, but also how those bottles are sealed and packaged. There are numerous types of wine bottle closures available to wineries today, including corks, caps, and seals made from both natural and synthetic materials. The bevy of options poses certain challenges for wine producers looking to choose the best closures for their bottles based upon cost-effectiveness, overall benefits, and current trends.

Types of Wine Bottle Closures

Corks are the most traditional and familiar type of closure in the wine industry, yet these closures come in the form of natural corks, plastic corks, and technical corks. There are also different types of caps, such as screw caps and crown caps, that serve as wine closures. A unique synthetic closure called a ZORK, wax seals, and glass Vinolock closures are also used by wineries to enhance the appearance and quality of the wine.

What Wineries Are Using Today

Every winery approaches bottle closures a bit differently, but certain closure types are increasingly popular and trending right now. Donald E. Hagge, Ph.D., a farmer, physicist and winemaker for VIDON Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon told The Grapevine Magazine that his winery currently uses Vinoseal glass closures and screwcaps. VIDON has shifted to these closure types after using corks in the beginning.

“A percentage of wines that use corks will be either tainted or oxidized after some time in bottles,” Hagge said. “Corks are used for traditional reasons in spite of their problems.”

Sean Comninos, winemaker for William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, says his winery uses both Stelvin closures and Diam corks at this time.

“The William Heritage brand is currently 100% under various grades of Diam depending on the aging window,” he said. “We use Stelvin on our ‘Jersey Wine Collection’ brand, as these wines are meant to be drunk immediately and are more for casual enjoyment.”

Comninos said that in the very beginning, all their wines were under the same agglomerated cork. As the winery grew, it began using Stelvin closures for the Jersey brand because it made these wines more accessible and kept oxygen transfer at a minimum. The winery used Nomacork for a little while, but this closure didn’t have the ease of opening that Stelvin offered.

“We were using a combination of agglomerated and natural corks in the Heritage line for quite some time,” Comninos said. “Ultimately, we felt that even though we were spending a lot of money on premium natural cork, and we had too much inconsistency. Many bottles showed cork taint or premature oxidation. The lower end wines felt a bit cheap with the agglomerated corks. I had begun to see a lot of the corks I was pulling from various producers seemed to be made by Diam around 2014 and 2015. Not a single one was flawed, and I felt that the cork had an acceptable aesthetic quality. So, with the 2015 vintage, we switched the entire line to Diam. I’ve been quite pleased with the results due to no TCA issues, no bleed-through corks, or weird oxidative issues at all.”

Popular Wine Closure Products

Many highly experienced companies specialize in bottle closures to help wineries make the best choices for their operations.

Lakewood Cork, an independently owned and operated business in Watkins Glen, New York has been exclusively distributing Gultig Corks since 1997. Owner Chris Stamp told The Grapevine Magazine that his most popular closure is a micro-agglomerated cork called Carat. He said that one of the drawbacks of using natural cork for wine is the potential for cork taint, but with Carat, the supplier uses a patented cleaning process to eliminate cork taint issues.

“The construction of the cork provides a consistent surface that is nice for branding,” Stamp said. “In addition, this cork is one of our least expensive closure options.”

Richard Smith of Tecnocap in Glen Dale, West Virginia, said the tinplate continuous thread closure is a common closure among wineries today. This type of closure is relatively inexpensive and seals bottles effectively. Another closure that is ideal for wine bottles is Tecnocap’s Espritbonnet.

“This is a plastic closure with a customizable metal overcap,” Smith told The Grapevine Magazine. “When used with a capsule, the bottle has a similar appearance of a corked bottle. The metal can be customized with solid colors or elaborate graphics. The liner typically is an expanded polyethylene foam, but other liners can be used that match the needs of the individual winery.”

Liz Green of Mala Closure Systems in Petaluma, California, said that her company currently only manufacturers screw caps. She firmly believes that these closures are great alternatives to cork.

“We don’t like to promote any superiority in closures since the sealing mechanism can actually have a great deal to do with the final stages of the winemaking process,” Green said. “What our customer’s find is that screw caps, also known as BVS finish or ROPP finish, are often more consistent than cork and capsule. The great thing about BVS in wine is that it’s all a standardized size, no matter the volume.”

Cost-Effectiveness of Wine Closures

Every type of wine closure that exists has its pros and cons, but some of these factors are more important than others for wineries. One top factor to consider is cost-effectiveness, and companies offer a comprehensive range of closure options to fit any budget and product type.

Bobbi Stebbins of Waterloo Container, a supplier of wine bottle caps, corks, and closures in Waterloo, New York, has found that cork customers tend to have a predisposition towards natural or synthetic cork before they call Waterloo for their closure supply.

“Corks are often the most cost-effective closure, for smaller wineries especially, as they require nothing more than a basic hand corker to apply,” Stebbins said. “Natural agglomerated cork options maintain the appeal of cork at an unbeatable price point.  Disc-style corks offer a ‘step up’ from the agglo corks with natural punched cork presenting at the opening and in contact with the product. Colorful PVC capsules combined with customized cork options can elevate even the most inexpensive cork to a worthwhile opening presentation.”

Stebbins went on to explain that synthetic or plant-based cork options are often able to endure more challenging storage conditions compared to natural cork. “This allows wineries to purchase larger quantities at savings while not worrying about the product expiring or drying out, which results in savings in the long-term,” she said. “Storage conditions are not always ideal; thus this type of cork option with a longer shelf life maximizes value.”

Wine Closure Trends

Trends come and go over time, yet it’s smart to learn about emerging technologies and note where the closure industry is headed.  Concerning trends, Hagge of VIDON Vineyard said, “More wineries are using screw caps each year.”  Stebbins has also been seeing a trend toward screw caps. Many of the company’s medium-size and large wineries are making the switch to Stelvin brand capsules.

“The screw cap can be customized to suit a brand, specific to desired oxygenation levels, and offer consistency from bottle-to-bottle that a natural product may not always provide,” Stebbins said. “The outlay cost of specialized cap application equipment may be daunting to smaller wineries; however, those using co-packers or mobile bottling services are very willing to make the switch.”

Meanwhile, Comninos has been noticing a trend of prioritizing more consistency, whether that be by use of screw caps, Diam, or some other closure to ensure that each bottle tastes the same no matter its closure.

“Every cork producer out there will say they have the best cork, but the very nature of the bark is highly variable,” Comninos said. “The days of a romantic attachment to solid, variably porous pieces of cork are over, in my opinion. I feel our customers deserve to know that they are tasting exactly what we intended to sell them.”

Comninos also believes that cans are a great closure and packaging system for certain types of wine. “Portability and smaller-serving sizes are very appealing to a broad range of people. We obviously will not be canning our higher-end products, but look for a rosé, off-dry white, and a red [in cans] from us in late spring or early summer.”

Stamp of Lakewood Cork has seen a definite uptick in demand for the G-Cap, which is a Stelvin-type closure.

“While demand for traditional corks has remained fairly strong for us, we see an increase year-after-year for this alternative,” Stamp said. “They are attractively priced when compared to a good quality cork and provide a consistently perfect seal. They are available in numerous attractive stock colors, with optional printing. Many people like the twist-off convenience these caps offer.”

Mala Closure Systems’ Green said that as with so many industries in California, there’s been a movement towards recycling and environmental sustainability in the wine closure industry. “I personally believe, and it is my experience, that this trend lends itself more to screw caps due to the fact that aluminum is infinitely recyclable, whereas cork is not,” Green said. “Corks that go into wine bottles can only be used once due to potential bacteria growth and contamination.”

Top Considerations for Choosing Wine Closures

There are many things to consider before settling on a new type of closure for your wine, and, fortunately, there are many experienced professionals on-hand to guide you through the selection process.

Stamp of Lakewood Cork said that as a winemaker, he chooses his closure based on the type of wine he is bottling. For example, he leans towards a straight, natural cork for a wine that will benefit from extended aging.

“These are more expensive than some other options, but they have a great track record for protecting wine while letting it evolve nicely for many years,” he said.

However, Stamp has found that lower-priced wines that aren’t meant to age for six or more years tend to be good candidates for Carat closures.

“Our Stelvin-type closure called ‘G-Cap’ is also a good choice, as the wine evolves differently under the hermetic seal of these caps,” he said. “I think it is important to consider your clientele’s expectations when selecting a closure. Whatever you select becomes part of the package. The package communicates with your customers.”

When assisting wineries in choosing a closure, Green of Mala Closure Systems asks wineries what their primary goals and most important values are in the winemaking process and then reminds them of the ways that screw caps can assist in that process. These reasons could range from sustainability to long-term aging of wine, wide-ranging production, marketing prominence, and other considerations.

“As this point in time, the stigma of screw cap bottled wine being ‘cheap’ is going away pretty quickly,” Green said. “This is because we’ve now had more than a decade, almost two, of wine in BVS or ROPP bottles with scientific evidence that it operates in more efficient and consistent ways than in cork-sealed bottles.”

Smith of Tecnocap’s piece of advice to wineries is to imagine that every wine is a discovery. “You want to use the best closure for your process, the varietal, aging, consistency, and the other factors which are important to you,” he said. “Take advantage of the technology today to produce your best product.”

Finally, Stebbins of Waterloo Container emphasized how a wine closure company’s thorough product knowledge and useful recommendations can shape customer experience.

“Often, the client’s brand determines the bottle and the closure, which is to say that marketing may have already determined the price point, look, and experience the winery is working to achieve with any particular bottle of wine,” Stebbins said. “The closure needs to fit those parameters to reach the overall goal. Knowledge of the customer’s brand and preference is key when guiding their closure decision.”

Uninvited And Unwanted, Vineyard Pests Demand Attention

By: Gerald Dlubala

Vineyard pests are more than just unwanted guests. They can devastate crop yields, attract other pests, and bring along disease and contamination. Depending on the grape varietal and its location, landscape, and environment, the type and number of pests grape growers battle can change on an annual basis.

Ground Battles

The most common type of pest control is the use of pesticides. According to Lisa Malabad, Product Marketing Manager and Cannabis segment lead at Marrone Bio Innovations, pesticides are most successful when the vineyard manager considers the necessities of the vineyard before purchasing a product.

“There are no silver bullets because there are many factors that go into pesticide choice, including application window, ease of use, maximum allowance/season, application resistance and any additional resistance that may have developed that reduces the effectiveness of the applied product. Because of all the changing variables, it’s becoming more common for growers to add biological crop protection into their pest control programs,” Malabad said. Marrone Bio Innovations creates industry-leading platforms of pest management solutions for the agricultural community. Their products help increase crop yield while decreasing chemical residue and pesticide loads in the environment.

However, biological crop protection cannot wholly reduce pests on its own. Marrone Bio recommends a strong, integrated pest management program that includes three main controls: biological, cultural, and pesticides.

“The key to a robust pest management system is monitoring, scouting, assessing and treating in various methods,” says Malabad. “There are considerable products on the market today that are labeled for grapes while providing some level of control for key pests. They fall into three main types: biologicals use natural enemies to attack unwanted pests; cultural methods involve planting cover crops to inhibit or drive away those that are unwanted; and pesticides, which fall into either the organic or synthetic category.”

Integrated pest management programs allow vineyard managers and workers to get to know the vineyard and the changes it goes through from week-to-week throughout the season.

“There is no one answer,” says Malabad, “which is why most growers in California have trusted Pest Control Advisors that consult with the growers for best management practices. Different pests affect the vineyards at different times of the year, but mealybugs, leafhoppers, and mites are the more commonly found insects. Pest pressure and intensity changes from year to year, so many growers are starting to look at preventative measures to control pests. Each varietal has its nuances, so getting ahead of the problem is critical. Ground makeup, cultural practices and micro-climates will determine the best overall pest management program within any unique block, so field scouting is the most important tool we have to determine treatment thresholds and preferred treatment times.”

Marrone Bio offers a pair of organic insecticide options for grape growers to include in their programs. Venerate XC is a liquid, easily mixed and sprayed for repeated success against mites while being soft on both the beneficial insects and pollinators that are so important to vineyard success. Grandevo WDC is equally successful in strengthening any pest control program against mealybugs.

Oil-Based

Since 1977, JMS Flower Farms has been helping farmers eradicate powdery mildew, aphids, whiteflies, mites and more in grape crops with their JMS Stylet-Oil, an all-in-one, environmentally safe, white mineral oil-based insecticide, fungicide and plant disease controller that is food grade quality, colorless, tasteless and odorless. Extensive research has shown no effect on the flavor, taste or aroma of grapes or wine.

Stylet-Oil works by physical contact, requiring applicators to wear coveralls, chemical resistant gloves, and shoes and socks. Once applied through a sprayer, the oil acts as a smothering agent, killing powdery mildew on contact, and also preventing insect respiration, spore germination and the attachment of organisms to the host plant.

One of the benefits of using a mineral oil-based treatment like JMS Stylet-Oil is that it prevents mildew development, kills infections both before and after they are visible, and prevents sporulation. It has also proved effective against Botrytis bunch rot and when used as a resistance management tool. JMS recommends the oil as the first step in a powdery mildew treatment program to eradicate the strains before they become resistant.

Bird Battles

Dan Kramer, Technical Director of Avian Enterprises, wants nothing more than to make unwanted guests, in his case, the birds and geese, unhappy. Unhappy enough that they don’t want to come back to your vineyard. Ever. He considers himself a wine aficionado and wants his favorite grape growers to be successful and available. Continually, he’s heard one thing over and over from disgruntled vineyard owners at trade shows, most recently in Sacramento.

“Birds are decimating their crops,” says Kramer, “and that’s not an exaggeration. A group of birds can descend in numbers and do significant damage in no time at all. You’ll first notice a couple of scout birds, and before you know it, your grape crop is infested. That’s just the beginning. Birds just love to leave half-eaten grapes around, readily inviting other damaging pests and disease-carrying rodents to the party, and all of those droppings being left behind are an additional vector for disease and illness. We know that small groups of birds control the movement of the flock, so our goal with our Avian Control bird repellent is to make those birds around your vineyard unhappy. Avian Control makes them unhappy, and unhappiness leads them away.”

Avian Control is a liquid product that is most commonly applied by an air blast sprayer, a piece of equipment that many vineyards already have on hand. Applications are put directly on the fruit but do not affect the growing fruit strand. Kramer suggests applying the liquid every ten days as the product breaks down into a gaseous state.

“I liken it to our reaction to pepper spray,” says Kramer. “It affects the bird’s trigeminal nerve, triggering distress and carrying those sensations to the brain. They can absorb it through their feet when they touch it, through their mouths when tasting it, and when the product is transforming into a gaseous state, the birds will notice it by way of their nasal passages.”

It’s effective on birds only, which is a big advantage, and because of an invisible stain on the vegetation and bird’s eyesight sensitivity to UV rays, they will come to learn and recognize Avian Control treated areas.

“You’ll see the birds fly in, move around, leave, and maybe repeat once or twice before finally leaving altogether,” says Kramer. “They realize that something isn’t right within the treated areas and then respond to those areas as if they are off limits, moving on to more accessible areas.”

Avian Control has significantly reduced crop loss while overcoming objections about possible taste issues. Minimal dosing compared to other products is a significant factor in this accomplishment, with the use of 32 ounces per acre versus a two and a half gallon per acre spread rate for other treatments. In taste tests where the winemaker knew he was tasting the same grapes from a treated vs. untreated group, he was unable to discern any difference between the two tastings. Avian Control is a green, biodegradable product, featuring a one hundred percent break down rate with total non-toxicity.

“Netting is a great idea in concept, but it gets very costly with the amount of time and labor involved, and it also restricts airflow,” says Kramer. “And guess what? You still get birds in there anyway. For goodness sake, use your air blast sprayer that you likely have on hand, and save on time, money and labor costs. You can spread our product for about thirty-five dollars per acre, three times a year, rather than spending eight hundred dollars per acre installing and uninstalling those pain in the rear nets.”

Eye In The Sky

Wayne Ackermann, Director of Business Development for The Bird Control Group, keeps those birds away from your grapevines by using his automated laser bird repellent. Ackermann previously worked in the wine industry and used the Agrilaser Autonomic for his own agricultural needs before ultimately joining the company. The Agrilaser Autonomic is a fully automated bird repellent that uses lasers to deter birds around the clock. Sounds simple, but a significant amount of technology is behind the success of the device.

“With a laser, the human eye sees the dot, but the birds see the full beam, almost in the way that we see a laser when it’s projected through fog or steam. The birds see the whole thing, like a sword or stick, or as I like to say, a lightsaber,” says Ackermann. “The beam appears to them to be a real, physical, dangerous object coming towards them, so they scatter to get out of the perceived path. First trials were very successful in blueberry farms, so the next logical steps were to expand to vineyards, where it has proved to be a very effective tool, not only here but in international trials as well.”

Often, says Ackerman, only one unit is needed to keep birds away.

“Individual farm landscapes, terrain, and planting row density make a difference, as does canopy heights,” says Ackermann. “We start with one unit, which generally handles an eight to twelve-acre range. If more coverage is needed, we add additional units to overlap and provide cross coverage.”

The units can run by standard power or solar. Standard power is preferred if available in the fields because of longer run times and fewer potential complications, but if you want physical portability in the unit, then the solar panel option can be a useful upgrade. Each unit is programmable with up to 16 different patterns and one hundred different waypoints so that the birds won’t become accustomed to the same model. The Bird Control Group can set and program the units and also train the users of the units using their software program and a standard Windows-based laptop.

“It becomes very intuitive and user-friendly,” said Ackermann. “And the success rate of the laser technology has been significant.”

However, Ackermann says that they are continually learning and improving through new studies and the experiences of current customers.

“Hey, these birds are smart,” said Ackermann. “They get accustomed to all kinds of things like thump cannons, squawk boxes, ribbons and balloons. So far, lasers have worked out very well with a reported 70% success rate in keeping birds away. That number grows if you use it in conjunction with other options.”

Maintenance on the Agrilaser Autonomic is simple and straightforward, with regular lens cleaning and battery replacements. An internal timer and regular programs control the lasers, which come with a one-year warranty.