The Raptors at Church and State Winery

By the time we’d arrived at Church and State Winery, the raptors were already in flight. As we settled into the bleachers, Athena the Gyr/Saker Falcon was dive bombing a meat-encrusted toy-on-a leach thrown in the air by handler Robyn Radcliffe, and she then landed to feast on it. No mention was made about what falcons drink with their meat, but we did learn a lot about why birds of prey are important to an environmentally-friendly vineyard.

Church and State says the raptors program is the start of their environmental vineyard management program, using the birds in lieu of bird netting or cannons. Finches, starlings, crows, magpies, jay and sparrows all feed on fruit. So the idea with the raptors is to get the big birds to hunt the little birds as a natural way to manage these pests.

The raptors performed magnificently under the guidance of their handlers from Pacific Northwest Raptors. Radcliffe did most of the talking at the lower end of the hill while her assistant Shea Wyatt stood uphill, with the birds flying between them.

Next up, the adorable Barn Owl Ollie, with his coal black eyes and heart shaped face. Thanks to his downey feathers, he flies so silently that it’s easy for him to swoop in to nab his prey.

When Jury showed up there was little need to describe him. Everybody knows what a Turkey Vulture looks like and what it does. But even an ugly-faced vulture is impressive in flight.

Then there were two Harris Hawks, Duck and Arwen. I can’t tell them apart, but I think it was Duck who also did some running around on the ground.

Finally, Hera the Bald Eagle. Only Hera wasn’t bald yet, as she was still a juvenile. Someday she’ll look like the American national bird, but for now she’s simply majestic.

The whole program lasted about 30 minutes, after which we repaired to the winery tasting room for wine and snacks. It’s a huge room with an open kitchen, a large horseshoe bar and a broad expanse of tables, perfect for a wedding.

The 2009 Okanagan Pinot Gris was crisp and fruity, with good acidity and a touch of minerality that finished fresh and clean. Perfect with the sushi being passed around.

The 2007 Okanagan Merlot was deep and jammy, with sturdy tannins and coffee notes. Good with the little mousse cones they were serving.

I also took home a bottle of the 2009 Vancouver Isle Pinot Gris and it had a somewhat more tropical fruit profile than the OKV, with a dry mid-palette and juicy acidity. Perfect with asparagus.

The 2008 Okanagan Chardonnay is a beautiful wine with lots of tropical fruit, caramel, and honey; good oak, but not too much, hints of minerality and acidity, and a long juicy finish. We had it with pecan-encrusted salmon and a Thai-style shrimp salad, and we were swooning!

The 2007 Hollenbech, OKV Pinot Noir is light in color and body, which belies its big fruit flavors which verge on sweet, rather like a strawberry pie, and it has racy acidity that makes it an excellent food wine. Perfect with yam fries.

This was a great place to bring my 80-something mother, visiting from the states. She got a healthy dose of wildlife followed by a generous helping of wine. What more could a grandmother want? The Raptors at Church and State would be a fun destination for families as it has something  to appeal to both children: animals, and adults: wine.

Flying demonstrations are at: 12:30, 2:00, and 3:30, beginning on March 25th.
Rates: Adults – $14 | Seniors – $12 | Students (12-16) – $10 | Children (3-11) – $7
Call 250-652-2671 for daily updates or email
raptors@nullchurchandstatewines.com

Finally, Go Canucks!

mari kane

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Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.