Ladybugs, beetles causing big headaches at wineries

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After 10 years of business at Wide River Winery in Clinton, Dorothy O'Brien knows all the ups and downs of running a vineyard.

"It's always something when you're growing grapes and harvesting them," O'Brien said.

But there's one small thing she never used to see as the enemy, and that's the ladybug and Asian lady beetles.

O'Brien first saw them appear on her grape vines about seven years ago, and they've been back each year since. Experts at Iowa State University say the bugs use the grapes as a source of food and shelter in the winter, and if they're not caught early, they end up getting processed into the wine.

"If you crush them in the destemmer, they will ruin your wine. It just smells like nail polish remover," O'Brien said.

That could mean losing thousands of dollars. Wine with that smell can't be sold, so it's poured out. O'Brien hears horror stories from her friends in the business all the time, and counts herself lucky she hasn't lost a major batch.

"Our biggest batches are about 1,000 gallons, so that's 5,000 bottles of wine. That could be a lot of money," O'Brien said.

Some pesticides can kill the bugs, but O'Brien doesn't use it so she can harvest earlier, which she credits for being able to avoid a bigger infestation.

Even with her good luck so far, O'Brien knows the bug battle wages on.

She says the worst year they've had with the ladybugs forced them to soak the grapes in water to force all the bugs off the vine before getting processed. Losing her biggest batch of wine because of the bugs would lead to about a $75,000 loss.