Combining wine tasting with nature
Vineyard nature walks could help bring wine visitors to eastern Washington.
The upper slopes of Washington’s Red Mountain come alive in the spring with flowers of lupine, phlox, and balsamroot.
Washington State University entomologist Dr. David James can envision biodiversity trails and walkways in and around vineyards and wineries, showcasing the brilliant colors of native fauna and flora—steppe shrub plants, butterflies, and such. And though he’s borrowing the trail concept from others, he believes it would have great appeal to those visiting wine country in Washington.
“It could be a great tourism thing,” he said. “People don’t recognize the tourism value as much as I do, but overseas in New Zealand, it’s part of their wine tourism.” Several vineyard and winery owners have put in nature walks so that visitors, after tasting wine, can stroll around the nature trails and learn about the value of biodiversity and the role that nature plays in the biological control of pests.
“It’s all about getting visitors to the winery and vineyard and keeping them there. People drink the wines and see the sustainable efforts and environment where the grapes have been grown.”
The biodiversity wine tourism efforts in New Zealand stem from a project called Greening Waipara, a research-driven effort of university researchers, local wine grape growers, and local government. Waipara Valley, located about 40 minutes north of Christchurch, is home to 80 vineyards grown on nearly 1,200 hectares, or 3,000 acres.
Greening Waipara has resulted in four vineyard biodiversity trails, according to the Greening Waipara Web site (www.Waiparawine.co.nz/Research/Greening_Waipara). Torlesse Wines created what is believed to be the world’s first biodiversity trail a few years ago.
The nature trails are located close to tasting rooms or restaurants and include information boards and educational quizzes for children. Visitors see firsthand how the Waipara wine producers are using nature’s services for pollination, pest and disease control, weed suppression, improved soil quality, conservation and ecotourism.
Since the Greening Waipara project began, more than 50 wineries have signed up to participate in the project. Part of its focus is to show growers the economic value of biodiversity and putting nature to work. For example, the research team estimated that one strip of buckwheat planted every ten rows could save a grower N.Z.$250 per hectare per year (U.S.$75 per acre) in pesticide and labor costs. Additionally, undervine mulching could save N.Z.$750 per hectare (U.S.$225 per acre) annually in Botrytis spraying. The mulch accelerates the rate of decomposition of vine debris and prunings, attracting mites that feed on overwintering spores of Botrytis. •