Vineyard glitz … Rod Windrim, whose glitter balls have cut his grape losses from 50 per cent to about 5 per cent. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
SOME people use shotguns, others use nets. But Rod Windrim prefers disco. The Hunter Valley winemaker has installed dozens of disco balls in his vineyard in a novel attempt to deter birds from eating his precious grapes. And the plan is working.
“We put them in six weeks ago,” Mr Windrim says. “And the results have been amazing.”
Windrim and his wife, Suzanne, own Krinklewood Vineyards, a 20-hectare vineyard at Broke, in the Hunter Valley. The region’s free-draining loam is ideal for producing the classic Hunter varieties of semillon, chardonnay, verdelho and shiraz. But it’s also ideal for producing flocks of ravenous cockatoos, silver eyes and leatherheads, which have in years past destroyed up to 50 per cent, or 50 tonnes, of the vineyard’s yearly harvest.
Until recently Mr Windrim used a complicated system of radar-activated speakers which broadcast bird distress noises.
“It’s basically these speakers that go whaa-whaa-whaa incredibly loudly,” he says. “And when I say loud, I mean like change-your-underpants loud.”
The speakers worked, Mr Windrim says, “but they also sent my neighbour insane”. Other vineyards use propane cannons or gas guns to deter birds, or employ staff to walk around blasting shotguns.
But none of these solutions seemed to suit Krinklewood’s earth-friendly ethos. “I was looking through viticulture trade journals for a subsonic dog-whistle type thing when I came across the disco balls idea,” Mr Windrim says. The Chinese-made disco balls are 30 centimetres in diameter and hang on a bracket just above the grapes, meaning they don’t have to be removed at harvest time.
There are 30 of them, and the slightest movement sends shards of light bouncing across the vineyard, scaring off the birds. “The balls cost $40 each,” Mr Windrim says. “But they’ve reduced our loss rate to about 5 per cent.”