The vine mealybug is a recent import and a potent vector for leaf roll virus, and it is a continuing problem in California wine country.
With spraying a controversial concern, grape growers are calling in the dogs – literally – for search and destroy missions.
According to the director of the Assistance Dog Institute, Dr.
Bonnie Bergin, her organization is training golden retrievers to assist in the process. “We’ve been working on this program for two years, and after several well-marked tests, we’re close to 100 percent of accuracy,” she told Wine Business.
Working with over $58,000 in contributions from Napa Valley grape growers, Bergin’s institute, which is located in Santa Rosa, has been training seven retrievers, fondly called, “scent detectives.” She hopes to use them, and others in the future, to single out and remove or sanitize vines infested with VMB.
“We believe the dogs will give the growers a better chance of area control,” she said. “Right now, they might have to spray the whole vineyard since they can’t be sure where the infestation is. In most cases, it may only be a few vines, so only those vines would have to be treated or pulled out. It can save the growers time and money, future infestations, and avoid the need to use pesticides.”
According to Domain Chandon Director of Winegrowing Rick Aldine, two of the dogs were put to the test at Chandonâ€™s Carneros Ranch, where several blocks were known to have VMB infestations. “The dogs aggressively locked onto vines with previously treated infestations, as well as vines with new, unidentified infestations,” Aldine said. “Most of the vines did not have significant crawlers visible yet. The dogs, however, actually ID’d a couple of underground infestations. This success is huge.”