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Beekeeping in Paso Wine Country

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 By Jennifer Bravo

In honor of the recently-observed Earth Day, we chatted with two beekeepers who work with honeybees in their vineyards.

Interacting with these amazing creatures and fostering these pivotal pollinators, they keep hives thriving which adds to a diverse and healthy ecosystem.

Want to learn more about beekeeping? Check out this great site which includes articles, a podcast, and a quarterly magazine, 2 Million Blossoms .  Looking to start your own hive? Bee Built has you covered!

 

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist at Tablas Creek VineyardJordy Lonborg Suited Up PicmonkeyJordy Lonborg Suited Up

What got you into beekeeping?   My father keeps bees back in Boston which spurred my interest. I was in my last quarter at Cal Poly taking four classes which included Organic Chemistry. I didn’t feel like I was busy enough so I added Beekeeping into the mix.

Bees are primary pollinators, what do they do during the winter?  They are in a quasi-hibernative state. There is a bit of foraging that takes place but for the most part, they are huddled around the queen keeping her warm.

Do you move your hive(s) with the seasons?   We do not move our hives as bees can forage for miles.

What is the biggest benefit of having bees in your vineyard?   They are one more layer to the biodiverse ecosystem we strive so hard to create here at Tablas Creek Vineyard.

What do you want people to know about beekeeping that they may not already know?   You do not have to buy bees to get started! Swarms are plentiful and easy to catch!!

What are your favorite honey and Paso Wine pairings?   Brie cheese paired with our Esprit Blanc!

 

 

Sean Walter, Assistant Winemaker at Shale Oak Winery, and keeper of bees for Copia Vineyards and Winery

What got you into beekeeping?   In the Spring of 2013, my roommate at the time, Pat, was working on opening the new Chipotle building in Paso when a swarm of bees made themselves a home in the rafters. The foreman was planning to call an exterminator but Pat stopped him and told him about a friend of ours that would come move the bees for free. Our friend showed up later that evening and I came to watch/help him. As we finished up the job and were loading the bees into his car, he asked me if I wanted them. I knew next to nothing about bees at this point, besides the fact that they made honey. I suppose my curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t say no. And that’s how it all started…

What do bees do in the winter?   Well, that depends on where your bees are located. Simply put, bees try to survive the winter in harsh climates. They have a long task list to prepare themselves for a cold winter, such as we have here in the North County of SLO.

1. The queen will stop laying eggs

2. The hive will kick out all of the males – their role in life is to find a virgin queen to mate with and thus, are just another mouth to feed.

3. They seal off the entrance to the hive as much as possible with propolis (a mixture of tree sap and resin, aka bee glue), this helps to weatherproof the hive.

4. During winter, the bees will consume the honey stores that they have produced throughout the year.

In warmer climates, beehives will continue to work year-round; laying eggs and building the colony with the ebb and flow of their food sources.

Sean Walter and girlfriend PicmonkeySarah and Sean in the apian gear

 Do you move your hive(s) with the seasons?   Finally a simple question. No, I don’t move my hives.

What is the biggest benefit of having bees in your vineyard?   Having a beehive at the vineyard doesn’t directly benefit the vines themselves as they are self-pollinating. The benefit to having bees around is to promote the ecosystem as a whole. As most of us know, bees are one of the best pollinators on earth, and without them, many of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we all enjoy wouldn’t do very well and some wouldn’t exist at all.

What do you want people to know about beekeeping that they may not already know?   Most people don’t realize that bees have a couple of different ways to communicate, one of which is through pheromones. This is one of the reasons why beekeepers use a smoker when working the hive. The smoke not only disrupts the communication system, but it helps to “herd the bees” around the hive and also tricks them into thinking that there is a fire. When bees sense the danger of fire they gorge themselves on honey in preparation for their evacuation rather than stinging/attacking the beekeeper.

What are your favorite honey and Paso Wine pairings?   My Girlfriend, Sarah, who works for Copia Vineyards and Winery is the wine pairing guru in our house. She likes to bring home a cheese called Honey Bee. It’s a goat Gouda drizzled with honey through the aging process, we pair it with a white Rhône like Viognier, Grenache Blanc, or Roussanne. We also enjoy a nice triple cream brie (Fromage D’Affinois is our favorite) with a drizzle of honey and a dry sparkling as well.

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