At Allegro's vineyards in The Brogue, we have often experienced the ways that bad weather systems sometimes seem to dissolve or break up, rather than score a direct hit on us. (Here's a pic of the thunderstorm on Tuesday, which would seem to corroborate this impression.) This can perhaps give us a sense of false security, as we come to imagine that maybe bad weather and bad news are willing to stay away from this little fortunate corner of the world. Wednesday our vineyard employee Matt shared horrible news with us which burst into our reality: He saw 4 spotted lanternflies in our vineyard block of Albariño, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier. They're here.
Carl has been anticipating the arrival of these devastating invasive insects for several years. The spotted lanternflies, indigenous to China and Vietnam, first showed up in the U.S. in 2014, in Berks County, PA. Their numbers and territory have expanded exponentially since then, posing a major threat to hardwoods, fruit trees, and grapevines. Carl knows growers whose vineyards have been absolutely wiped out by the lanternflies, including a grower in PA who lost his entire 50-acre vineyard. The planthoppers feed on the sap of the trees and plants, pulling out carbohydrates necessary for future growth. Grapevines are particularly vulnerable to this kind of loss in the fall, when the accumulation of sugars converts to starches which will fuel the following season's vital early-season growth.
So they're here; we aren't somehow immune to these awful critters. We'd been hoping, of course, that they would pass us by, and news that they have been spotted in California led to our hoping that those in the U.S. wine industry with deep pockets will become motivated to throw lots of money into mitigation research, finding ways--fungi? spiders?--to stop the invasion. In an awful way, it sort of feels like it mimics the COVID pandemic, where the whole world is racing for a vaccine. The whole world may not care about our vines, but for us these vines--some of which have been growing here in York County since 1973--mean everything. As Carl so delicately puts it, "We're scared shitless."
So far, only a few individual insects have been seen here, but sometimes, in other places, we've seen one minor infestation one year develop into a full-scale invasion the following year. The PA Department of Ag has put out lots of educational material about the insects, instructing people who see the flies to report and kill them. Carl's truck bears the sticker showing he has a permit indicating he has received Department of Ag training. (It looks like he has, instead, the right to hunt and kill the lanternflies, which of course we all do.)
If you see spotted lanternflies in PA, please report them online or call 1-888-4BADFLY.
As a photographer I can't help but notice how interesting the spotted lanternflies look, but I've seen enough terrifying photo and video evidence of how awful infestations are that I know I'll shiver when I see my first ones in person. For now, this is the one picture I have, taken by Carl's phone. Let's hope that targeted vineyard sprays can help us keep them at bay.
2020: You were already officially the worst. We would have loved to be spared from this targeted pest. But, after all, as Red Green used to say, "Remember I'm pullin' for ya -- we're all in this together."