Pesky Experiments

A Little Fruit Seeking Fiend


We have arrived at the time of year, twixt the end of fall and the heart of winter, when swarms of sweet-loving flies descend upon our tasting room to torment customers and employees alike with their overzealous death-dives into our tastes of wine and other general isectoid skulduggery.   This problem occurs, from what we can ascertain, as a result of shifting food sources.  At the end of harvest each year we compost the pomace, or grapeskins and seeds from which all the juice has been squeezed, in low piles along the creek, circumstantially creating a massive food source for Drosophila melanogaster (also known as the common fruit fly).  The weather has not grown cold enough–there have not been enough hard freezes in a row–to wipe out the enthusiastically growing masses.   Thus, portions of the population migrate down to the tasting room where (JOY OF JOYS!) there is absolutely delicious wine being poured!

Since the population shift, we Halter Ranch Tasting Room Staff have been engaged in various experiments in the interest of  mitigating and, when necessary, eradicating these greedy little grape enthusiasts.  As such, we have chosen to share with you, lucky reader, a few of our tricks for keeping the population from becoming completely obscene and overwhelming.  Before we arrive at mischievous fly solutions, a quick story (which applies to this subject…we promise!):

As the grapes begin to ripen out in the vineyard the sugar content makes them attractive to…well…everything.  Most larger and more destructive critters are discouraged from creeping among the vines by miles of deer fencing around the exterior and lining the (intentionally intact) wildlife corridors through the middle of the vineyard, but birds are an obvious exception.   Starlings are the most widespread culprit when it comes to crop loss as a result of their excessive numbers and large flocks.  We find that we have minimal with this particular species simply due to the fact that our 281 acre planting, while larger than any other local vineyard west of the 101 freeway, does not compare in size to the gargantuan plantings east of the 101.  As a result, the primary mass of bird pests focuses on the larger food source to the east and ignores our operation for the most part.  The point?  …By providing a larger, more enticing option, it is possible to attract the bulk of a pest population away from your wine, your grapevines, etc.

Our focus has been to move the primary food source, ie fly magnet, out of the tasting room to a place where it will not be so obnoxious to tasting room staff and customers (we use the area around our recycling dumpster).   We began by banishing from the tasting room all vessels and items that had wine residue on them including but not exclusive to, bottles, rags, corks, screwcaps, and overzealous customers.  Clearly, glasses that are in use and dump buckets are necessary to the tasting experience.  To attempt mitigating the temptation around these necessary fly-sinks we’ve found that starting the day with an inch of soapy water at the bottom of each dump bucket helps discourage and or slay flies that venture too close.  Getting finished glasses into the dishwasher as quickly as possible is key, as is removing finished bottles to the dumpster (or similar) area.  We place all corks and screwcaps in a sealed plastic bag from the outset.  Towels used for clean up are collected in a discreet bin outside.  Any wine that is poured down the sink (from partial glasses or faulty bottles) is quickly followed by a cleansing solution.  We also strategically place traps composed of open topped vessels with some wine in the bottom and saran wrap over the top with a slit in in it, letting flies in but making it difficult for them to escape.  A few other possibilities we’ve toyed with and discussed but have not yet tried are:

-To purchase and cultivate a population of carnivorous plants that might discreetly attract and consume our unwanted guests.  We were thinking Pinguicula, Drosera, Sarracenia, or some combination of the three.

-To turn the tasting room into a mini wind tunnel, placing powerful fans on the east side to blow anything weighing less than a bottle of wine out the west side (this option was deemed impractical for some reason).

-To introduce a population of Spiders, Preying Mantids, and wasps to wage war on the unsuspecting flies.  Apparently the solution here might be more of a problem for a percentage of our customers than the flies themselves…

This morning when opening the first flight of wines for tasting we dumped 2 into separate dixie cups to see which would attract more flies.  In one we poured our delicious 2010 Synthesis, in the other we poured the delectable 2008 Ancestor.  Which one did  Drosophila prefer based on the number of ‘swimmers’ at the end of the day?  Wait for it….


…2008 Ancestor.


Pardon me while I swing abruptly into first person.  This post spawns from a threshold I have in regard to swarming or nesting insects.  Generally I am at peace with the animal kingdom, arthropods included.  I rescue spiders, bees, beetles, scorpions, other insects, and members of the avian, aquatic, and mammal kingdoms with equal enthusiasm.  When it comes to insects–flies and ants in particular–the pendulum in my mind begins to swing away from peaceful cohabitation and toward eradication when the collective mass of insects in my immediate vicinity begins inching toward my own total body mass.  When this happens, the insects in question are effectively declaring war upon me (at least this is how my mind interprets their behavior), and I gear up for retaliation out of a deep need for self preservation.  My conclusion in the wake of these explorations is that a solution to the fruit fly issue (beyond cooperative frigid weather) will remain a work in progress.  If you have suggestions for fruit fly mitigation from your own experiences do please contribute in the comments section!  Thanks for reading and happy post-Thanksgiving ‘ )

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