Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | June 9, 2011

Gopher Control Caddyshack Style

By now you have read all about the fact that it was one of the coolest months of May on record and most likely you have already subscribed to the media frenzy buzzing about the vineyards being behind and growing degree days being completely thrown off track for the rest of the  season; if you’re a winemaker you’ve put your own spin on it proclaiming that with a cool wet spring comes a long temperate growing season – epic conditions for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, disastrous conditions for Nebbiolo and other late ripening* varietals or vineyard sites.

HOW TO: Talk down a gopher

Although only the farmers seem to be able to painfully remember that this season is getting off to a start incredibly reminiscent of the 2010 season, it’s with that memory that we’ve all dusted off our clubs and enrolled ourselves in the occasional UC Extension class to pass the time.

A farmer like none other – I’ve done both of those things and over-scheduled my social calendar in an attempt to occupy myself as bloom inches from just 45% of the vineyard towards 65 or 70% if we’re lucky this week…and at the same time, hopefully overcome the writers block I’ve  suffered from recently.

For those of you wanting a detailed field report: several of Thomson Vineyards Chardonnay blocks have achieved full bloom status, but several are still mid bloom – including the Pinot Noir and Merlot blocks. Two spray applications of stylet oil and one application of sulfur have gone on thus far. Wind seems to be keeping mildew at bay and is not having an adverse effect on shoot growth, nor has done any damage as reported recently by some Sonoma vineyard owners. Cover crop doesn’t seem to be stunted one single bit by the cold weather. It’s already been mowed several times. Leaf Water Potential (LWP) readings will not begin for several more weeks. But raising wires and top suckering commences Monday.

Anyhow, leading up to the recent Chardonnay Day Soiree, where I managed to get my ruff ‘n tuff VW Passat stuck in a ditch full of mud, and prior to spending a late night playing midnight golf – the highlight of the past few weeks had to be the half day workshop I spent with The Farmer learning about gopher control.

One for the road

There are an infinite number of ways to control the pocket gopher population in your vineyard which include trapping, fumigation with aluminum phosphide, poison baits, and the use of a gas explosive device. Roger A. Baldwin, UC Wildlife Pest Management Advisor discussed several recently at the UC Davis Oakville test vineyard site. There were three front runners:

1. Trapping and fumigation. Ranges  from 74 percent to 90 percent effectiveness.

2. Baiting control. Ranges from 30 percent to 56 percent effectiveness.

3. A gas explosive device known to farmers as the Rodenator. Rodenator control ranges from zero to 55 percent effectiveness.

Going on a gopher hunt...

And while it may be cool to light off explosives in the back 40, Roger was quick to point out that it’s highly ineffective and YOU are BLOWING things up in the vineyard! The most success has been seen in clay soil types.

The time required to apply each treatment is relatively similar between baiting, trapping, and Rodenator treatments (90–106 seconds).

Trapping plus fumigation is estimated to be the most cost effective treatment, at $252 per acre, compared with $396 per acre for the Rodenator, and $420 for baiting.

Presently, trapping and fumigation appears to be the most effective and efficient method for gopher control according to UC Extension Advisors who’ve tested each system feverishly.

So what if Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray can’t get a handle on the pest back at the Country Club? As one of The Farmer’s Twitter Followers, Dan Kessler of KH Vineyards & Wines in Lompoc, California, pointed out we can’t afford not to. A vineyard on 8×4 spacing, for every 1 vine lost=~1btl wine at 2.5t/ac. Lost yr+3yrs for replant to prod=4btls wine, $30/btl=$120/vine, per every vine lost. How many vines you gonna let Clifford to pocket mole excavate now?

What a way to spend a day on the job site

After spending much of the morning looking over my shoulder for the PETA administrators who would surely want a piece of me for Tweeting about the No Gopher Guts No Glory Clamp 5000 The Farmer and I headed out to do some tank sample tasting of the 2010 vintage with winemaker Rudy Zuidema and assistant winemaker Michael Andrews at White Cottage Ranch. Upon arrival at the winery, we confirmed that winemakers are doing exactly what the farmers in the valley are doing – golfing.

It was nice to find Kopriva winemaker Myles doing something a bit more productive later that evening, shucking Hog Island oysters – paired alongside his crisp 2009 Sonoma no-oak Chardonnay. He was sure to give The Farmer a good rousing about getting on the tractor later that night and applying another spray of sulfur before his next unannounced visit to the vineyard.

Speaking of the Carneros Chardonnay vineyard. It’s looking damn nice. Just about as nice as a finely manicured golf course. So nice, I’m toying with the idea of hosting the next midnight scramble there.

Until that day and while we’re all patiently waiting for the heat wave we need to tee off the 2011 season you can catch me perfecting my swing at SF Giants Winefest, Taste of Mendocino, and Pinot Days.

And on off days you can find me at one of the several greens highlighted in this month’s 7×7 magazine. Maybe I’ll let you buy me a drink at the club’s bar and we can talk the current grape market, if you’re lucky.

The Farmer & Kopriva Winemaker Myles talking about perfecting their swings this summer

With that challenge on deck, here’s a raised glass of Chardonnay to all you winemakers holding off on buying fruit in 2011, stalling the market with your indecisive ways…from the Napa Valley Country Club bar. Bottoms up.

*Late ripening vineyard sites: Thomson Vineyards has just one. The Merlot vineyard in Napa Valley on Hwy 121 at 1500 feet. Which has already been shoot thinned aggressively, will carry just two clusters per shoot  in 2011, and will not be sold to any winemaker who does not sign, honor, or comply with a written grape purchase agreement. This ‘aint 2009 anymore boys and Bloomberg news has proclaimed the juice off of this vineyard epic. Unlabeled bottles of it are the first to be drank at high end parties held in the Up Valley Cabernet shops. It’s obscure, and you’ll want to have it if you can get your hands on it.


  1. another great blog post! Sorry about the VW (directions did have a warning :() Hope we will connect at Taste of Mendo and/or Pinot Days – cheers and keep up the good writing and growing. If you grew Rhones, I’d be a buyer!

    • Vermentino, Albarino, Pinot Blanc are all on my list of new white varietals to plant in our 6 acre block. Sadly none are Rhone. Thanks for reading!

  2. I’m not sure what the other winemakers are doing but I’m busy blending the 2010 whites and prepping for another crazy harvest. Wish I had the time to golf!! 🙂

    • What’s that a winemaker projecting what harvest will bring nearly 4 months out!?! Nova, you haven’t spent enough time with The Farmer. Among other things one of his favorite sayings is, “You can’t control the weather!” Bring a few blending trials down to Carneros, we’ll drink it on the deck at Moore’s Landing and enjoy the sunshine. Thanks for keeping up with the blog.

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