Bees! Why do we have bees when grapes don’t need them? Why do we care?
By Megan Arnett
Over the past few years, bees have been getting quite a bit of attention, and rightfully so! These small winged fluffy creatures are extremely important to agriculture. Many people fall under the common misconception that bees pollinate flowers and then lose track of where they go from there. But bees affect many things. Think about it, just about every single person on the planet is affected by bees. Have you eaten blueberries before? Watermelon, tomatoes, nuts, apples, avocados? All of these, and many more agricultural products, are pollinated by bees.
Grape vines are a notable exception to the bee-pollination rule. Grape vines have both male and female reproductive characteristics and can self-pollinate, eliminating the essential need for an external pollination force, like bees.
This doesn’t mean that bees are not vital to the wine grape industry. In fact, bees are still extremely important to us. Grape vines may not need bees for pollination, but our cover crops and surrounding plants do. Every year a cover crop is planted in our best vineyards in Napa. A cover crop is comprised of many different plants that are strong in different micro-nutrients that grape vines might need and that the soil might be deprived of after the previous growing season.
Unlike many other crops – grape vines have very little choice but to be planted in a monoculture fashion. Monoculture is the planting of a same crop, season after season, on the same piece of land. This can lead to decimation of the soil – sometimes even leaving it infertile for future crops. Some more traditional crops can prevent this kind of damage to soil by rotating crops to different fields after a few seasons. However, since grape vines take so long (compared to other crops) to reach maturity, replanting every few years is not ideal, and in the wine industry, it can be very expensive. Since grape vines have a complex and deep root system, you can keep vines planted for sometimes over 100 years. For that reason, we need to take very good care of the soil in our best vineyards in Napa to ensure that it is viable for many years to come.
We take our soil health very seriously here, and that is why we made the decision to farm our vineyards completely organically. Vineyards have been around all over the world for quite a while now, even before conventional farming practices began. We like to think that we are taking our farming practices back to their roots, if it has worked for all those years, why mess with it by adding chemicals now?
Back to bees – these small flying bundles of positivity are here to coexist symbiotically with plants around our grape vines, which we think is pretty valuable. We keep bees in our American Canyon vineyard where, not only do they help with our cover crop, they pollinate our apple trees, fruits and vegetable in our gardens. Keeping bees is something we do because not only does it help our land, but it also helps these little creatures have a safe space to live. In the past few years, it has become apparent that many different species of bee populations have been decreasing, not only here in North America, but throughout Europe as well. For us, keeping bees and giving them a stable, safe environment to thrive in is part of our duty to the agriculture, land, and to future generations to come.