Duck with Shiraz? Some Unorthodox Animal and Wine Pairings

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Duck with Shiraz? Some Unorthodox Animal and Wine Pairings

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Near South Africa’s False Bay in the Stellenbosch wine region is Vergenoegd Low Vineyard. Each morning, at precisely 10:30 a parade of 1,000 ravenous ducks descends on the vines. They are there not to eat the grapes but to prey on a species called the white dune snail which devours the buds of the young grapes. The Indian runner duck is very slim, enabling it to squeeze between the vines and has a long supple neck with which it picks off the snails and other insects. 

Via News24

The parade of ducks is a bigger tourist attraction than the wine, which is perhaps why the vineyard’s latest offering is a Runner Duck Shiraz Rosé 2021. It apparently goes very well with – well, almost anything really.

Stellenbosch’s ducks aren’t the only way in which some highly unusual animals are helping with the wine harvest. Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, California is a cross between a vineyard and a zoo.

Tablas Creek’s Paco and the rest of the flock. Via Tablas Creek

Billing itself as the world’s First Regenerative Organic Certified Winery, Tablas Creek boasts nesting pairs of owls that feast on gophers that eat the roots of the vines; flocks of chickens which get rid of insect pests; a flock of 200 black-faced Dorper sheep which graze on the weeds between the rows of vines; and even huge Spanish mastiffs to keep coyotes and mountain lions away from the animals.

Now when you open your bottle of Merlot you probably aren’t thinking of pairing it with a nice snake cutlet but at Chateau Coutet, a Grand Cru Bordeaux winemaker situated in St Emilion snakes help to ensure the vintage. Co-owner Adrien David-Beaulieu explains how they put out black carpets between the rows of vines. The warmth generated encourages snakes which feed on the population of rodents that eat the roots of the vines. They also help aerate the soil by digging underground tunnels. He hastens to explain that the three varieties they use are non-venomous – otherwise grape-treading time could be a bit hazardous.

French snakes–paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc? Mikhail Nilov at Pexels

Meanwhile, not very far away, just across the river, Benoit and Delphine Vinet at Domaine Emile Grelier produce a 100 per cent merlot Bordeaux AOC with the assistance of owls, 54 species of birds, frogs and snakes. In the cultivation of the vines, they employ seven hedgehog cabines and 10 gites a chauves-souris (bat-houses), to keep down the population of insect pests. They explain that a bat can devour 3,000 insects per night.

At Balanced Earth Farm in Oregon to keep down the weeds they use Kunekune pigs, a heritage breed from New Zealand and Babydoll Southdown sheep – they are, they say, ‘excellent vineyard mowers’. The grapes from the vineyard produce a well-balanced Pinot Noir which pairs nicely with pork and lamb. They also use Scottish highland cattle which thrive throughout the cold Oregon winters.

Kunekune pigs make great vineyard workers and afterwardsBrett Sayles at Pexels

Even more unusual animals can be found at the Bodega Chacra in Patagonia on the edge of the Argentinian desert. In Argentina, armadillos are often eaten but not by vineyard owner Piero Incisa della Rocchetta who finds them excellent at devouring the ants which plague the vines. 

In Napa Valley, Rebecca Rosen, known as ‘the falcon-whisperer’ finds her services in great demand during harvest season. As the grapes ripen and the sugar content starts to increase, voracious flocks of birds descend on the harvest. Ms Rosen’s falcons scare them away.

In New Zealand they also use falcons but to control not birds, but rabbits.

A few years ago, the use of animals to control vineyard pests was unheard of but today vineyard owners are discovering that using nature instead of chemicals is not just more eco-friendly but can improve the quality of the vines, the earth and eventually the wine itself.

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