Ladybird taint

Published by Sally on March 21, 2012

First published at Drinks Business, February 2, 2012

Ladybird taint is thought to be on the rise and cool climate regions are particularly vulnerable as climate warming allows these species to migrate into previously unpalatable regions.

While ladybirds (Coccinellidae) are a common natural predator for aphids and mealybugs, with some insects being introduced from Asia at the beginning of the 1900s for this purpose, when they accidentally get in with the grapes at harvest they produce IPMP (2-isopropyl-3-methoxypyrazine), a powerful compound that taints the resulting wine.

“A good beetle with bad habits”

Presenting on day two of the 8th International Cool Climate Symposium in Hobart, Tasmania, Kevin Ker, of Brock University in Canada called it “a good beetle with bad habits”, adding “in 2001 in Ontario the insect caused the dumping of 1 million litres of wine.”

With a detection threshold around 1ppt, Ker said the taint has flavours of “peanuts, asparagus, bell pepper, earth. It’s herbaceous and bitter. And once the wine is made cleaning it up is virtually impossible.”

Researching a sustainable management solution has been carried out over the last decade, and remains an ongoing research area. The bugs migrate to vineyards in the autumn, and they’re attracted by healthy, undamaged fruit, of which vineyards are generally full at this time of year.

Traditional insecticide treatments work, but their application so close to harvest time causes concerns about pesticide residues and wine quality. Trials of more sustainable solutions to date have found that spraying potassium metabisulphite in the vineyard works as an effective repellent to the ladybirds “reducing the number of lady beetles on vines below sensory threshold levels”, Ker said. Additionally, potassium metabisulphite does not affect the fermentation process.

These beetles are “an increasing threat to the global wine industry” said Ker, they’re “a hitchhiker that we really don’t like.” It’s not an issue restricted to north America, some European vineyards are also known to be affected.


3 Responses to “Ladybird taint”

  1. charles sydney Says:

    Hi Sally

    That’s a nasty little problem…

    Growers welcome ladybirds as they zap the aphids and so reduce the need for pesticides – but now it looks like we’ll need pesticides to zap the ladybirds.

    One of our growers was affected with IPMP this year – the first time anyone in the Loire had heard of it and we had to bring in an oenolgist from south france to identify the problem. We did manage to salvage the wine, but this was not (really not) fun…

    Hope to catch up soon,

  2. Sally Says:

    Wow, I hadn’t heard it had reached the Loire, thanks for the heads-up. It is certainly a dilemma given how helpful ladybirds are during the growing season. Do vibrating tables shake the little things off the bunches and grapes?

  3. charles sydney Says:

    Hi Sally….

    How about ‘hmmmm’ as an answer?

    Not sure – but it’s always surprising (and until now pleasing) to see how many ladybirds you do find wandering across the top of trailers of grapes as the harvest comes in, whether picking by hand or machine.

    Charles (with apologies for the late reply!)

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