Chablis is a hotbed of sexual confusion. “This entire area,” Matthieu Mangenot of Domaine Long-Depaquit informed me with a sweeping arm, “is sexually confused.” Not only Chablis but all of Burgundy, much of nearby Champagne and many other vineyards scattered around the world.
Vineyards often inspire romance and this is certainly the case with moths. Eyes meet, wings flutter and soon little larvae are trampoline bouncing on vine leaves. The rapacious baby caterpillars munch their way through the vineyard abandoning partially chomped leaves and punctured grapes in their wake, rendering grape clusters vulnerable to moulds and infections. Globally, the little nippers destroy about 3 million acres of crops annually, the equivalent of 1.3 billion gallons of wine.
Vineyard managers are an environmentally friendly lot. Long gone is the uninhibited use of environmentally damaging pesticides; these days most vineyards are managed with careful attention to the ecosystem. Still, vineyard pests can be an annoyance. To prevent proliferation of moths, viticulturalists make use of pheromones. Because pheromones prevent male and female moths from communicating, they cannot mate. Apparently moth mating rituals are more highly evolved than those of humans; lack of communication doesn’t seem to stop us from mating.
Various forms of ‘’sexual disruption” systems are in use. In Burgundy “la confusion sexuelle’’ is a village-wide effort. Pheromones in little brown capsules are suspended along vineyard wires at about the same time to permeate the air with female pheromones. Another technique encouraging moths to “just say no’’ is an electrostatic powder coated with female hormones. The powder is strategically placed in dispensers about the vineyard. Like a bar in a red-light district, the dispensers are initially attractive to the male. Once the male flies away from the girlie bar, however, he is unable to detect female moths due to the powdery scent clinging to his own body. Even if he is lucky enough to bump into a female at the pub, he will appear to be female himself and so will be rejected. Human mating deterrents are not so dissimilar: a man reeking of female perfume is also likely to find himself rejected by members of the opposite sex.
One added twist for the mixed-up moths, however, is the perfumed males – who now smell like females—suddenly become very attractive to other male moths. When the aroused male suitors shimmy up to the male drag queens, they catch the cross-dressing vibe themselves. And we thought Lan Kwai Fung was confusing.
Even grape vines are a touch befuddled about their sexuality. While male and female vines both exist, they don’t seem to need one another. Grape vines typically self-mate, or self-pollinate. Clearly vineyards aren’t nearly as romantic we thought. It seems less sex in the vineyard results in a better glass of wine, which is converse to conventional thinking – that a good glass of wine results in better sex.