Search Articles

Please Share

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditTechnoratiLinkedin

Sponsors

Sponsors

Most Read Articles

Blog

Falcons are for the Birds - Of Falcons, 49ers and Vineyard Bird Abatement

This weekend, the San Francisco 49ers face Atlanta for the NFC Championship. Northern Californians are normally both good-natured and nature-loving. At the moment though, we are decidedly hostile toward Falcons. We don’t like their uniforms or the way they fly across the field. We don’t want to see Matt Ryan air one out or their defense challenge our air superiority. We’ll cheer for the 49ers to ruffle, perhaps pluck, their feathers. Falcons, boo!

But, after this week, we should go back to liking falcons. And not just for their handsome profiles and breath-taking aerobatics. Trained falcons protect vineyards from grape-stealing birds.

Falconry experts Jim and Kathleen Tigan operate Tactical Avian Predators. For ten years, Jim has used his trained raptors to rid clients of troublesome starlings. The service is used by pet food manufacturers and oil companies, blueberry farmers and golf courses, car builders and even the city of San Francisco.

The customer closest to the Tigan’s heart is Hahn Family Wines in the Santa Lucia Highlands. After nearly a decade working with them, Jim Tigan says it feels like family. The feeling is mutual. “I think the world of Jim Tigan and his falcons," Bill Leigon, president of Hahn Family Wines, told me.

jimTiganTacticalAvianPredators
Jim Tigan releases a falcon at Hahn Family Vineyards.
Photo: Tactical Avian Predators

During the most crucial part of the year — a six week or longer period beginning just before veraison — the Tigan’s essentially move their household from Reno, Nevada to the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyard. “We pack up the trailer, the dogs and the cats and work the thousand-acre vineyard seven days a week, sun up to sundown,” Kathleen tells me. The Tigans keep in close touch with Hahn director of vineyard operations Andy Mitchell. He tells them when and where there will be green drops or other harvest activities and where the grapes are becoming ripe. The Tigans target falcons on those areas to ensure there are no easy meals.

Starlings will rapidly devastate a vineyard. They are very intelligent and social birds, traveling in massive flocks. Starling scouts in squadrons of ten to forty birds go in all directions looking for those feeding grounds with the sweetest grapes. The scouts report back, then tens of thousands of shiny black fruit-eaters descend into the best vineyard. A single starling can eat a full bunch of grapes in just five minutes. When a starling gets full, almost spitefully, he’ll start peeling grapes and plucking out the crunchy, nutty seeds. If one bird can ravage a cluster in minutes, what will thousands of birds do to a vineyard’s yield?

Starlings aren’t the only birds that plunder vineyards. Finches and linnets are becoming an issue. They are still much less problematic though and are also protected species, so dealings with them need to be especially gentle.

Falcons hunt small birds by nature, zooming in and striking like an air-to-air missile. But the highly-trained falcons almost never injure or eat the enemy. They clear the skies through intimidation. Super-fast and maneuverable, they dive at a flock then bank and rise only to dive again. The starlings, not aware that these falcons don’t have murderous intent, head for a safer buffet. After several days of nerve-wracking fly-bys, the grape-burglars stop coming back. The falcons have established a no-fly zone.

There’s more to pest control falconry than wearing a cool leather gauntlet and watching your birds do their thing. The hours are long and physical. Jim starts at the crack of dawn with three birds and a dog. While his falcons circle, Jim and dog constantly walk the rows, looking for birds in the canopy and flushing them out. Eventually, it gets too hot for falcons, dog and falconer. They head back to the trailer until late afternoon when it’s cooler. Then, both Jim and Kathleen go out. They’ll take two dogs and six birds. Eventually, Jim heads in, leaving Kathleen and her team to take the late shift, working until dark.

565px-Peregrine Falcon 12
Peregrine Falcon. Photo: Ltshears

Jim Tigan uses four types of falcons to handle the various sizes of pests and different terrains. They also vary in their tolerance to heat. Peregrine falcons are astoundingly fast and can weigh up to three pounds. Saker falcons are a desert species renowned for their heat tolerance. Their size is, on average, similar to that of the largest Peregrines. Barbary Falcons, in the Peregrine family, are medium-sized with a very broad range of tolerated temperatures. They are fast but also highly maneuverable. They like high-altitude flying and love a good chase. Whereas the Peregrine and Barbary like to dive from great heights, the Lanner Falcon prefers low-altitude, horizontal pursuits.

The Grolier Encyclopedia tells us that Peregrine Falcons are the fastest living things on earth. In a dive, they can exceed 200 miles per hour.

Of course, most growers use other means to deal with thieving birds. Some cover vines with netting. Others tie shiny mylar strips to them. “Bird cannons” can be fired off periodically, frightening birds away with booming sound. In non-food businesses, such as oil fields, poison is sometimes used. Scarecrows don’t cut it. Strips and nets are practical and cost-effective in a small vineyard but become massively labor intensive and costly over large acreage. And you never know how much mylar is enough.

One year, driving back and forth to the vineyard each day, Jim saw a small boutique vineyard become an attraction to starlings. He’d honk his horn and try to scare them off, but had to get on with his own work. In the end, birds devastated that crop. “The next year when I came back to SLH,” Jim recalls, “there was at least one mylar strip on every single vine. The vineyard was so reflective, air traffic controllers might have had to re-route planes.”

Tactical Avian Predators’ fee works out to around 60 cents-per-acre for each day of work in big vineyards. Due to fixed costs of the business, price-per-acre would much higher for a small plot. “While a bit more expensive than netting or bird cannons, the use of falcons in the vineyard maintains our commitment to the environment and our commitment to a more humane treatment of the starlings. We see Tactical Avian Predators as an integral partner in our Sustainability program.” Bill Leigon explains. “Not only is bird netting a petroleum product, it can trap birds by the neck when they try to eat the grapes. A bird trapped in the netting can easily break its neck.” Tactical Avian Predators is a certified-green wildlife control company and Hahn Family Winery is SIP-certified.

Jim Tigan’s interest in falcons started during what he calls his “senior year of 4th grade,” (made necessary by dyslexia). He discovered My Side of the Mountain a book in which a teenage boy runs away to the Catskills, lives in the wilderness and, after reading up on falconry, captures and trains a peregrine. Jim captured his first falcon while in high school. After graduation, Tigan spent 13 years in the Coast Guard. While with the Coast Guard, he founded the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Sitka, Alaska. When an injury forced his retirement from the service, falconry became his primary focus. Falcons became his business when Pedigree Dog Food asked him to see if his birds could get starlings out of the factory.

Starling-abatement at big vineyards is all-consuming, but it’s seasonal. Companies like Tactical Avian Predators look to work for a variety of businesses with different seasons. For example, Pacific Northwest blueberry farms and Lodi grape growers would likely see peak starling activity at different times than the Santa Lucia Highlands. And not every gig is starling abatement. Tactical Avian Predators also does educational demonstrations. One of their competitors works for the Seattle Seahawks, his trained falcon serving as their mascot.

A study, reported in Science, found a falcon’s visual acuity is 2.67 times better than a human’s. We should train falcons to be referees!

That brings us back to this weekend. Who will falconers Jim and Kathleen Tigan be rooting for? The 49ers! As Reno-residents with ties to wine country, they see San Francisco as the home team.

Colin-KaepernickThey are also hugely enthusiastic fans of 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The run or gun phenom was born in Milwaukee, but his family moved to Turlock when he was four years old. He went to college at the University of Nevada, Reno and was very popular there for both his multi-sport skills and his personality. Reno residents consider him a hometown hero.

If there had been the slightest chance of the Tigan’s pulling for Atlanta due to their falcon affinity, marketers blew that. “Their mascot isn’t even a real falcon,” Kathleen exclaims in disbelief. “They’ve got some guy walking around in a stupid stuffed-bird costume.” So, go Niners!

 

Freddie Falcons
An embarrassment to falconers.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

California Chardonnay You’ll Want to Buy

There is a lot of angst in the media about California Chardonnay again. The controversy doesn’t seem to have affected sales much though. People still buy it by the gallon, sometimes literally. So, why all the hullabaloo?

There is plenty of good, expressive Chardonnay coming from California. However, you may have to search a bit for it. The best wines, which are not always expensive, may not be the ones on your local grocery store shelf. That is especially true if you don’t live in California. To help you find the good stuff, I’m providing a list of some of the ones I’ve enjoyed most over the last year. If you want to cut to the chase, or run to the store, just skip down to my recommendations at the end because the next few paragraphs will discuss some of the current controversy.

New White Wines and Rosés from Rutherford's Day in the Dust

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting for trade and media at Inglenook. Roughly 40 wineries were represented. I tasted 54+ wines (in addition to those from the morning session which I describe here). That article also includes a summary of the 2011 vintage overall.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting were red. However, there were some very compelling white and rosés too. I’ve dedicated this article to those wines, so they don’t get lost in the Cabernet shuffle.

Rutherford White and Rosé New Releases

Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc “1155” Napa Valley 2013, ~$38
Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, all estate-grown in Rutherford, were fermented in French oak barrels. Fresh, summery flavors of tart peach and dry grass are coupled with enjoyably grippy texture and freshness. Recommended

El Molino Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $60 - 856 cases
White peach and beautiful floral notes of honeysuckle and pikake with some oak in the background. Very pretty. Highly Recommended

Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $45 - 300 cases
Aromas and flavors of green apple skin, fresh herb and under ripe peach with a fresh palate. Recommended

Fleury Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $50
Fermentation and aging was 50% stainless steel, 50% new French oak. This is a boldly tropical wine with passionfruit, pineapple and white flower aromatics. Medium-plus body and the flavor of piña colada on the palate. Recommended

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $28
Salty lemon-lime aromas with grapefruit, peppery spice and herb on the palate. Medium-plus body and very fresh. Aged in French oak, 40% new. 10% Semillon, 2% Muscat. Highly Recommended

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $20
Salty lime pith, passionfruit, melon rind and herb aromas join with loads of grapefruit on the palate. Fresh, long and intense. Highly Recommended

Conspire Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $28 - 267 cases
Welcome to Sancerre! Intensely aromatic with passionfruit, grapefruit, salty minerality and pipi du chat. Body is a light medium-plus and the finish very long. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sauvignon Musque. Conspire is a sub-brand of Amy Aiken's Meander wines. Highly Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, ~$23
Fresh, tasty and softened ever so slightly by 5% oak (new French). Peach blossom, guava and spice. Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Estate 2013, ~$29
30% usage of new French oak lends added richness to the palate of this estate wine. White peach, sweet citrus and spice. Best to let this wine breathe a good while or splash it into a decanter. Highly Recommended

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford Estate 2012, $75
A gorgeous Chardonnay with green and yellow apples and pretty floral spice on the nose and creamy palate. Very Highly Recommended

Talahalusi Vineyards Roussanne Rutherford 2012
First things first: Talahalusi is the name the local Wappo tribe had for what we know as Napa Valley. There’s 5% Picpoul Blanc blended into this full-bodied Roussanne. It’s juicy and long with flavors of kiwi and dry grass. Recommended

Tres Sabores Rosé Rutherford “Ingrid and Julia” 2013, $24
Forget that this an unlikely dry rosé, made from Zinfandel (85%) and Petite Sirah (15%). Just enjoy the pale pink color, delicious flavors of nectarine and fresh berries in sweet cream and the refreshing, long-lasting palate. Highly Recommended

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

My Top Picks from the 2011 Pinot Noir Shootout

Saturday, I served as one of the judges for the 10th annual Pinot Noir Shootout finals put on by Affairs of the Vine. There were three panels of judges, each evaluating 32 wines over four flights. There were 96 wines in all. Most of the wines were from California, but not all. Theoretically, they could be from anywhere.

The Shootout is a well-organized, multi-stage evaluation of wines. A very large number of wines are submitted but, unlike most wine fair situations, the wines go through several judging stages over two or more months. This means judges don’t have to wade through hundreds of wines in just one or two days. Every wine that makes the finals has successfully passed at least two prior evaluations.

My personal experience in the finals suggests that this vetting was successful. From a qualitative standpoint, the wines fell into a narrow band in my view; roughlty 87 to 93 points. There was only one wine in the 32 that I rated significantly lower. That could well have been an issue with the particular bottle. (It definitely wasn’t corked though.)

One of the nice things about the Pinot Noir Shootout is that many of the wines involved are not regularly reviewed by mainstream wine magazines. Some are only available winery-direct, in person of through the online stores.

Below are the 12 wines I rated most highly from my group of 32, in alphabetical order by winery. The overall winners from the 96 wines will be published at Affairs of the Vines when all results have been tabulated. But, if you’re looking for a new Pinot Noir to try for a holiday meal, consider those I’ve listed here.

2007 Anderson Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, $30
Speaking of small wineries, Lee Anderson's primary business is real estate as you'll see from the website. But he also has a listing for this pretty wine with delicate flavors and a lightly creamy texture. Notes of rose, dark flowers, cocoa, cedar and red cherry. Charming, ready for immediate move in.

2009 Bargetto Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, $40
A very good wine with exotic aromas and flavors pine forest, mandarin orange and tea mixed with attractive red cherry, vanilla and marshmallow. Well-balanced, good concentration.

2007 Barney & Kel (KB Cellars) Pinot Noir Russian River, $28
Cherry, dill frond, citrus zest, berries and spice on aromas are followed by a richly-bodied and supple palate. Black cherry, dark spice and oak flavors. A pleasure to drink, seemingly impossible to find. If you're in Santa Rosa, ask around.

2009 Cubanismo Vineyards “Rumba” Pinot Noir Amity-Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, $21
Rose petal, tea and strawberry aromas. Medium body and well-balanced acidity, alcohol and intensity. Flavors of tea, orange and cranberry. Medium-plus length.

2009 Davis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Soul Patch Vineyard, Russian River, $42
Ripe cherry, berries, vanilla and oak aromatics and long, very attractive flavors of dark flowers, raspberry cream soda and sweet spice. Medium tannins contribute a gentle but interesting texture.

2008 Elkhorn Peak Pinot Noir Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley, $34
The vineyard is in Jamieson Canyon, due north (across the highway and well up the hill from) the Chardonnay Golf Club. Spicy berries and slightly jammy red cherry with vanilla, oak and chocolate accents. A good drink with prominent tannins that will match up well with a juicy duck breast or beef filet.

2008 Estancia Estates Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, $31
Pretty aromas of strawberry, vanilla, cherry and pot pourri spice. Satisfying palate weight and flavors of cherry and cedar.

2009 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Sky High Ranch, Mendocino Ridge
Very long and juicy, with chewy tannins and a plethora of red fruit flavors. Pine, herb and dust add interest.

2008 Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir 667 Clone, Single Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, $52
A friendly, lightly sweet wine with maraschino cherry, vanilla, fennel and fig on the nose and raspberry jam with cocoa on the palate. A crowd-pleaser from this small, Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

2009 Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir Hearthstone Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles, $38
Yes, Pinot Noir from Paso Robles. It's been grown in the Adelaida District since 1964. This one has a very dark Pinot nose: black cherry, cola and dusty earth. Grippy tannins lead to restrained flavors, mostly cherry, vanilla, cocoa and toasty oak. A good wine for seared pork belly.

2009 Sharp Cellars Pinot Noir Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast, $48
Toasted oak, toasted marshmallow, black cherry and dried orange peel on the nose. Rich, almost creamy body, with concentrated flavors of cherry, raspberry, oak and caramel. Very long finish. A decadent Pinot.

2009 Ventana Pinot Noir Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $29
Garnet tones made this wine look older than it is. The delicate aromatics also showed development: dried fruit, cola, driftwood and sarsparilla. Medium body with good acidity and balance. Light, jammy red fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dusty wood on the palate.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Wine Worth the Money: 2006 Kobalt Cabernet Sauvignon

There are a lot of conversations these days that include phrases like “with this economy” and “in these troubled economic times.” Clearly, few of us are spending money as freely now as we may have two or three years ago. Whether a person’s income is actually lower or they just feel more comfortable spending less and saving more, conspicuous consumption is out and frugality is fashionable.

Wine purchasing habits have been impacted by this. Restaurants are selling fewer expensive bottles. “By the glass” is now much more popular because, even if it’s a bad deal by volume, one can simply drink less and thus spend less. In wine shops, people who used to buy truly expensive bottles have cut their average bottle price by as much as 75%. For other folks, $8 bottles are the new $20 bottle.

Despite all of the saving, bargain-hunting and prudent moderation, every now and then people want to “break out.” Maybe there’s a big birthday or anniversary. Maybe you bought AAPL at $80. Maybe you had big money on the Ducks over Cal. Whatever the reason, sometimes you’re feeling flush and you’re ready to spend big on a bottle. But no matter how badly you want to spend, you don’t want to spend badly. As with many things, the price of wine is based at least as much on the law of supply and demand, production cost, and brand power as it is on quality. You want to buy wine worth the money, not just pay for someone’s expensive real estate.

Subcategories