27 April, 2001

A scent of she-butterfly

Brown plastic gadget full of she-butterfly. Verzy, Montagne de Reims.

The vine is a robust plant. It manages with little of most things. However, a wealth of different diseases, lacks and insects can ruin the plant or the grapes or both. Therefore there is a number of different methods - often chemical - to fight all the miseries. Most of them spread with wine tractors or manually.

But in Champagne as many other places the winegrowers prefer to spread as little poison as they can. You find eco-growers and growers that are into biodynamics as well. The moon calendar and the year with a complete register of flower-, leaf-, root- and fruitdays is for sale in even the most tiny farmershop. And it is not rare that an old farmer will refer to the moon... a pregnant woman for instance will not carry her unborne child more than 9 moons, I have been told, so I know that the birth definitely is due before the 10th moon.

One of the methods - which by the way exists in many other places than Champagne - is the "sexual confusion". The brown gadget in the photo above. Most would say - I suppose - that it does not look that sexy, but it is not human heads it is supposed to turn. But he-butterflies.

Scent is chemistry
With insects and especially butterflies the females attract the males by sending out an organic scent in a gaseous form (pheromon). The males are equipped with special antennas that allows them to pick up the scent messages from the females. It is this scent that has been identified and thereafter artificially reproduced in labs.

First time I heard about the confusion was in Trépail, Montagne de Reims.

The industrial female - the chemical inside the brown plastic gadget - emits a surplus of she-butterfly all over the vineyard, which completely knocks out the male. He is confused and simply cannot figure out where to go to get one of these attractive females. His confusion prevents mating. Thus both eggs, worms - the caterpillars, that are the first phase towards the butterflies - and destructions caused by caterpillars looking for food in the vines are prevented.

You must place the atomizer manually - one each twenty square metres - the national institute for research in agriculture, the INRA recommends a continuous piece of land of at least 10 hectares, so it is a task that counts workwise. Not the least since many of the vineyards of Champange are so small that you have to cooperate with quite a few neighbours to obtain a piece of land big enough to make it worth it. INRA has been a part of the development of a technology that has made it possible to spread the pheromon with helicopters.

When they are finally placed, the atomizers send out 100 gram of pheromon per hectare. Quite an amount compared with the 0,000000001 gram per hectare of the she-butterfly. He does not have a chance to find a mate. Imagine the red light district of Amsterdam but with whores all over the street, in all the gateways, in the windows, astride the ridges of all the roofs... what should a man do? What can a man do?

My inner citygirl
Unfortunately it does mean less butterflies as well. I mean, that is the point, is it not? My inner citygirl cannot help lamenting this effect a little bit. Butterflies are so beautiful. In the garden, in the forest, in the vineyards, sorry I cannot help it. The citygirl however also finds the idea of environmental sustainability very attractive, and in this case this idea seems to be in a direct confrontation with that of biodiversity.

So far we will have to experiment with the environmental sustainability in other ways. Alain tried to enroll his plot in the project some years ago, but there were already enough (?) in our area, so he was not picked out to participate. We will have to find other ways that does not imply too much of the factor we have got least available at the moment: Spare time. Therefore we so far have satisfied ourselves by buying the moon calendar, that amongst many other things shows the optimum days to dig your garden.

I have not been able to find any advice regarding the days with the best moon force to plant the vines though. Maybe that is quite okay anyway, since we only have one weekend left to do it, thus it is not really possible to choose differently. This next weekend will just have to do. But of course I could add one or two phrases in my evening prayers - just in case... plants are said to like that you talk nicely to them, I wonder if it does not apply to vines as well?

Serious business: Alain with the sprayer, last July.

When it comes to the sexual confusion one big advantage is that once it is placed in the vineyard, it takes care of itself the rest of the year... very different from the chemicals that must be sprayed after each day with rain.

The confusion method has been used the last 10-20 years. It is quite widespread in Germany and also known in Switzerland,Italy and Spain. And France, where Champagne is one of the areas with most hectares covered by the program.

Read the document of INRA on sexual confusion here

På dansk

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