Science Takes Charge

Companies Using Scientific Expertise in the Use of Biologicals & Organics in the Wine Industry

By: Cheryl Gray

Science, by design, is innovation in constant motion.  Such is the focus of an industry driven by the science behind biopesticides that alter what Mother Nature originally intended, redirecting naturally occurring processes to protect wineries and their vineyards.

  Among the companies with this expertise is family-owned BioSafe Systems, headquartered in Connecticut. For the wine industry, BioSafe specializes in solutions from vineyard crop protection to winery sanitation. A branded leader in research, manufacturing and applications of sustainable chemistries for the agriculture industry, BioSafe Systems has spent the past quarter century finding new, innovative ways that offer sustainable means of protecting its customers’ investments.

  Dr. Jodi Creasap Gee of BioSafe Systems has an intensive educational and industry background in the field. She describes her journey through the science of biologicals and organics protecting wineries from the vineyards to production evolved.

  “My dissertation focused on the mechanism of biological control of crown gall in grapes by a non-pathogenic strain of Agrobacterium vitis. After a brief post-doc studying Erwinia amylovora, I spent five years as the viticulture extension educator for a Cornell Cooperative Extension regional program in Western New York. There, I worked primarily with juice grape growers to improve efficiency, vine health and yield (quantity and quality). From there, I led the Kent State University – Ashtabula Wine Degrees Program as the program director, which also was a dual role with the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance as the Ohio representative. Adding in my time spent working at my grandfather’s vineyard when I was a teenager, most of my life has been spent thinking about and working with grapevines.”

  Dr. Gee dually serves as BioSafe Systems’ field research and development project manager and agriculture technical sales representative for the Northeastern United States. She describes some of the company’s products, their applications and how biologicals and organics play a key role in making wine.

  “We work every day in research and development to find new, innovative ways that offer sustainable means of protecting our customers’ investments. Our viticulture and enology customers range from small to large operations using OxiDate 5.0 in the vineyard and SaniDate 5.0 in the winery. Many eastern (U.S.) vineyards regularly use OxiDate 5.0 to control bunch rot later in the season and to control and clean up powdery mildew infections on leaves. Using a broad-spectrum fungicide/surface disinfestant like OxiDate 5.0 in the vineyard reduces a large swath of fungal pathogens and their isolates on leaves and clusters, thereby reducing the likelihood of fungicide resistance. Additionally, biologicals deliver another mode of action for disease management in the vineyard and prevent fungicide resistance.

  Two of our materials fit especially well into a viticulture spray program: OxiDate 5.0 and PerCarb. OxiDate 5.0 can be tank-mixed with many conventional, and biological pesticides, and PerCarb is an excellent rotation partner. Together, these two materials can clean and protect grapevines and clusters, leading to higher quality fruit for excellent wines.”

  For BioSafe products that are designed for use inside wineries, Dr. Gee adds that the company has several solutions for problems that can easily threaten wine production and its preservation.

  “The winery is where the magic happens, and the winery is where high quality fruit can potentially be ruined by spoilage microorganisms, such as Brettanomyces and acetic acid bacteria. Our GreenClean alkaline cleaner used with our BioFoamer foaming agent gets into the nooks and crannies around the winery. For hard surfaces and non-porous sanitizing, SaniDate 5.0 is an excellent option for keeping tanks, floors, walls and lines clean. Finally, in the tasting room, because chlorine is the enemy of good wine, BioSafe Systems carries SaniDate sanitizing wipes for cleaning bars and tables, as well as our SaniDate RTU for end-of-day cleaning.”

  On the West Coast is Pacific Biocontrol Corporation, headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. The company, in business for 35 years, considers itself one of the original pheromone companies and a global player in the science of manipulating naturally occurring pheromones. 

  Pheromones are chemicals emitted by organisms that allow them to communicate among the same species. These chemicals serve many functions, including finding food sources, detecting potential dangers and locating a potential mate. It is the latter that most interests Pacific Biocontrol, according to Jeannine Lowrimore, the company’s technical sales representative for Northern California.

  “PBC’s mission is to increase the use of its mating disruption formulations by developing efficacious products and educating growers on how a pheromone program can impact production. We work with academia, industry and growers to establish regional pest management programs where pheromone mating disruption benefits entire communities. Our fruit and nut customers range from small family ranches to large production farms mainly throughout the Western United States.”

  Lowrimore, with a B.S. degree in entomology from UC Davis and over 20 years of pheromone experience, joined Pacific Biocontrol in 2014. Her expertise in the science of mating disruption through manipulating pheromones includes 15 years as a research assistant for a UCCE Walnut farm advisor, where she worked to effectively develop codling moth mating disruption in walnut orchards.

  Lowrimore says that Pacific Biocontrol provides multiple products for wineries using the same kind of science. Among those products is ISOMATE® VMB, which is used to manage insect pests by interrupting their mating behaviors. Lowrimore explains the process along with the research and development behind the product.

  “Mating disruption works by saturating the field with a synthetic pheromone formulation which keeps the males from finding the females and thus reducing mating and egg laying. The ultimate goal of a mating disruption program is the long-term population decline of that pest. This, in turn, brings an economic benefit to the grower by having to treat less for that pest.

  ISOMATE® VMB was registered in California in May 2021 after several years of extensive research in the Lodi and Napa regions. We also collaborated with Dr. Kent Daane of UC Berkeley in table grape trials in the central San Joaquin Valley. As VMB (vine mealybug) has become a critical pest in California vineyards, giving growers another tool in the battle was extremely welcomed. For organic growers, this challenge is greater without conventional chemistries to lean on. The honeydew and sooty mold caused by VMB infestations contaminate fruit and can impact quality. VMB activity can be detected from early spring months all through the fall and more so in warmer climates. For this reason, ISOMATE VMB was developed to release all through this extremely long season.

  One of the most crucial and largest flights of VMB occurs late October-November when growers are wrapping up harvest activities and not thinking about pest management. Our dispenser has proven longevity to disrupt this flight which then aids in reducing the population going into the following season. For the Lodi and Napa regions, where evenings are cooler, dispensers easily release pheromones for over 200 days. These dispensers quickly twist onto a cordon or trellis wire, are discrete in color and stay secure through mechanical harvesting. We want dispensers to stay in the vines for the remainder of the season and not end up in the fruit.”

  Lowrimore adds that ISOMATE VMB is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) approved.

  “Products are non-toxic and environmentally safe and when used in integrated pest management (IPM) programs, ISOMATE® can suppress pest populations while conserving beneficial species. This approach can reduce the need for conventional pesticides and limit the development of pest resistance. More ISOMATE® results in less pesticide residues.”

 Lowrimore says that Pacific Biocontrol Corporation has a diverse pheromone product portfolio targeting the pests of vineyards and fruit and nut orchards. The company, she adds, sells its products through agricultural chemical distributors and dealers worldwide, with customer service a top priority. That means helping clients understand the science and expertise behind the products.

  “We realize educating growers and consultants on the benefits of mating disruption helps reassure them of the investment they’ve made. We also pride ourselves on excellent science in the development of products that are efficacious and economical for growers. Understanding insect pest behavior is crucial for mating disruption programs to have the strongest impact on populations. 

  Our staff is predominantly composed of technically trained and experienced entomologists with advanced degrees, who have worked in academic or government-related pheromone research prior to joining PBC.” 

  Another company among the best in helping wineries protect their grapes using is Suterra.

In business for more than 30 years, the Oregon-based company produces hundreds of products that are used in agricultural regions across the globe, including more than 400,000 acres in California.

  Suterra manufactures its CheckMate® VMB-XL, a membrane dispenser, and CheckMate® VMB-F, a sprayable microencapsulated formula. The products target vine mealybug (VMB), a highly efficient vector of Grapevine Leafroll Associated Viruses. The active ingredient in both products is synthetic replicas of the vine mealybug’s sexual reproduction pheromone. These products limit reproductive capacity, lowers populations and reduce direct crop damage caused by the pest. 

  The use of biologicals and organics in protecting wineries, their fruit and their products is a plan of defense built exclusively around science. Innovation in this industry is as perpetual as the threat of existing microorganisms, as well as those yet to come. Leaders in the industry know this, which is why their expertise is essential, and the depth of their experience in research and development is key.

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