English grapes threatened by foreign foe

Harlequin ladybirdGardeners beware - harlequin ladybirds have been spotted in eastern-England. Unlike its British dark-red counterpart, the Asian Harmonia axyridis is no friend of fruit-growers. When frightened or attacked it drops a noxious smelling liquid. If it happens to be standing on a bunch of grapes or perry pears at the time these pick up the ‘ladybird taint’.

The tainting chemicals – methoxypyrazines – smell of green peppers or roasted peanuts. Because of their potency, even a slight amount can potentially affect a wine or perry’s taste.

British ladybirdEnglish winemakers should take heed from their American counterparts. Harlequin ‘ladybugs’ were introduced into vineyards as biological controls for aphids, but become so successful they now threatening the butterfly, lacewing and native ladybird population. Harlequins are now so numerous they are being picked along with the grapes, enter the grape crusher and get mixed into the juice – result poor quality wine. Ladybird taint is said to significantly lower a wine’s fruit and floral characteristics. The chemicals responsible may smell and taste awful but are not considered harmful to humans.

Ladybirds aren’t the only insect American winemakers are worried about. The light brown apple moth, a native of Australia, has been seen in California’s premier wine region Napa Valley. The moth will eat not only its name sake, but grapes, pears and oranges. California’s £2.7 billion fruit industry is said to be at risk. Crops from affected regions are being quarantined.

If you spot a harlequin ladybird report it immediately to the UK Ladybird Survey. No ladybirds? Don’t worry, why not introduce some of the good sort - Ladybird Organic Red wine is available for £19.80 a bottle from Charles Mitchell Wines.

UPDATE December 2010: Ladybird Organic Red 2007 wine still available from Charles Mitchell Wines