California wine country is chockablock with exclusive tasting venues and members-only wines. But in Sonoma, Jordan Vineyard & Winery is hoping to attract a different sort of select clientele: Non-invasive bugs. The winery is embarking on a multiyear planting program, taking land from the 1,200-acre estate not planted to wine grapes and turning it into a habitat for pollinators, including western monarch butterflies, native bees and other insects.
Jordan and Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and promoting pollinators and their ecosystems, worked together to select the best sites on the property. “Our partnership aims us in the direction for success to ensure we support these pollinators,” Jordan director of agricultural operations Brent Young told Wine Spectator.
Much like selecting grape varieties and clones for vineyards, plants were selected based on terrain, exposure, watershed proximity and which pollinators the habitat will support. In total, more than 3,400 plants will be planted across 8 acres in 2021, with an additional 2 acres planned over the next three years. “Understanding the diversity of these plants and how to provide forage for these species year-round has allowed us to expand our knowledge as farmers,” Young said.
Difficult-to-grow milkweed is an essential food source for monarch caterpillars. “The success rate is low for milkweed, so we purchased 1,000 seeds, which we’ll start in our greenhouse before putting into the ground to increase the milkweed density,” Young said. This past winter, due to marginal rainfall, he and his team had to water the milkweed by hand to ensure the plants were well-established.
Native grasses, wildflowers, scrubs and trees were also planted to provide year-round floral resources and nesting habitats for pollinators. “This is the most diverse pollinator habitat restoration program that we know of,” said Miles Dakin, Bee Friendly Farming coordinator for Pollinator Partnership, in a statement.
Although not needed for grapevines, pollinators are vital for plants such as cover crops that grow between the vines and help replenish soil nutrients. “Flowering cover crops like mustard, vetch and clover serve a dual purpose,” Young said, “promoting beneficial pollinators while organically delivering nitrogen to the soil, and [they’re] a natural extension of our approach to biodiversity at Jordan.”
Jordan’s pollinator sanctuary sites began over a year ago but were expanded in the fall after proprietor John Jordan read about the historically low western monarch migration numbers. According to The Xerces Society, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to invertebrate conservaton, the western monarch butterfly hit a low of just 1,914 butterflies in 2020, a 99.9 percent decline since the 1980s, when populations were counted in the millions.
Jordan hopes their efforts will motivate others to take on similar projects and spread awareness about the importance of protecting native pollinators. The project is also timely. The Monarch Act, introduced March 17 by a bipartisan group of congressional legislators, would direct $12.5 million annually to projects focused on conserving the species, and an additional $12.5 million per year to implement the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan, a proposal of conservation strategies organized by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Visitors to Jordan can book an appointment to view the pollinator sanctuaries when the winery starts its vineyard hikes in mid-April in honor of Earth Week. The 4-mile hike includes a charcuterie picnic lunch, salad from the chef’s garden and wine pairing. “We are all just visiting this planet, and it is up to each of us to do our part to make it a better place,” said Jordan. “It is also really fun to do these projects and share them with our visitors.”
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