The measure of the robustness of any ecosystem can be found in its biodiversity. Multitudes of life forms reduce vulnerability, protect the ecosystem from shocks and enable it to restore and regenerate more quickly. Avondale was one of the first South African wine producers to be awarded the Biodiversity in Wine certification. While we do have an ongoing restoration project to clear alien vegetation on the farm and plant hundreds of indigenous trees, we do not confine our efforts to promote biodiversity to just the marginal uncultivated areas of our land. We strive for biodiversity throughout the farm, and particularly in our actual vineyards. Our intricate cover cropping system throughout the seasons, which includes the nurturing of indigenous fynbos plants, fosters micro-life in the soils and attracts an abundance of beneficial insects. The land also supports a variety of naturally occurring birds, frogs, reptiles, small and larger mammals. The Cape Foxes which breed on the farm, the shy foraging of Common Duiker, Grysbok and Steenbok, the night-time wanderings of Red Caracal, Porcupine and Spotted Genets, and the pair of Black Eagles that soar down from the mountain cliffs to hunt Rock Hyrax are all testimony to the health of our environment.
Owls, Ducks and Wasps
While our vines enjoy the quality nutrition that forms the strong, first line of defense against disease and pests, the balance of health in the ecosystem can still, from time to time, be tipped by other factors. At Avondale we mimic the ways that Nature supports natural predators in the system so as to curb disease and regulate infestations. At the micro-level we make use of two strains of beneficial bacteria to combat downy mildew and harmful worms. When necessary, we release the predatory wasp known as the mealy bug destroyer to combat attacks by mealy bugs. Once they have successfully done their work, the population of these indigenous wasps on the farm is then naturally regulated by a shortage of their preferred food. On the larger scale, Spotted Eagle Owls, Rock Kestrels, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites occur naturally on the farm and we have encouraged these birds of prey to do their work of rodent control where we need it most by erecting tall poles for convenient perching and owl houses in the vineyards. Perhaps the most picturesque of our natural pest management methods is the employment of a posse of glossy white Pekin ducks who range through green vineyards on snail patrol. These ducks are trained from young to voluntarily gather in the custom-made ‘duck-mobile’ and go out each weekday to do their work. Happily, they waddle between the vines and forage in the cover crops for snails. They are a highly effective and cost-efficient team who protect us from the damage that snails can do without having to resort to poisonous bait or the organically approved substitutes for snail control. We have learnt from Nature that there are always better alternatives and we are constantly seeking new ways to strengthen the ecosystem as a whole, such as our current investigations into being an attractive environment for bats which do great work at moth control.