California vintner uses aloe vera to protect grapes

Grapes that get too much sun face the same problems as humans: Tan today, wrinkle tomorrow.

Which is why winemaker Aaron Pott, taking a cue from sun-worshippers, started spraying his grapes with a compost “tea” that includes small amounts of aloe vera and yucca, known for their abilities to soothe over-sunned skin.

As a result, his vines came through the intense bursts of heat that hit California this summer largely unscathed, says Pott, winemaker at the Quintessa winery in the Napa Valley.

Quintessa also uses conventional forms of heat relief, such as managing the “canopy”—the way leaves are trained to grow, determining how much shade the grapes will get—and misting vines with cool water at critical times.

The compost teas are part of an approach known as biodynamics, a type of farming that rejects the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, and promotes crop and wildlife diversity to curb pests.

The creator of biodynamics, Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, didn’t know much about California summers, but his work did give Pott and his colleagues the idea of working with drought-tolerant plants.

The theory is that if a plant is resistant to problems like drought or insects, it possesses some quality that causes that resistance, Pott said. By concocting a tea from that plant and spraying it on another plant, the quality might be transferred.

“We’re really just hitting the tip of the iceberg with these kind of treatments,” he said.

Because the spray is so diluted, by the time grapes are picked there’s no residue.

Pott isn’t aware of anyone else giving grapes a spritz of sunscreen and other farming experts said it sounded like a first to them, too. It’s unknown whether the same methods can be applied to other sun-sensitive crops, like tomatoes.

Still, growers have taken a number of steps to beat the heat, particularly with extra irrigation, said Dave Kranz, spokesperson for the California Farm Bureau.

“Just as humans are encouraged to stay hydrated during warm weather, the same is true for plants,” he said.
- Sapa-AP

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