Hikers discover Colchester's Priam Vineyards

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Mon., Aug. 8, 2011
Hike leader Gary Crump by some of the solar panels that power Priam Vineyard. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Hike leader Gary Crump by some of the solar panels that power Priam Vineyard. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

From the array of solar panels that greet visitors, to the bird nesting boxes spread throughout his 40-acre farm, it’s clear that Gary Crump is concerned about the world in which he lives. Crump and his wife, Gloria Priam, are co-owners of Colchester’s Priam Vineyards. And while their goal is to continue making award-winning wines, they are uncompromising in their desire to produce them in a way that not only does no harm to the environment, but maybe even returns more than it takes.

“This is a sustainable farm,” said Crump, as he waited for a break in the rain to lead a group of about 30 people on a hike through his vineyard last Sunday, Aug. 7, as part of the Colchester Land Trust's monthly “Discover Colchester” hiking series. He uses no pesticides or herbicides in growing the grapes, he said, which are hand-picked when ripe and crushed immediately afterwards for the on-site wine production.

“We are an end-user farm. If you do that, you can make a farm work,” said Crump. The solar panels – Priam Vineyards is the first New England winery to be solar-powered – not only generate all of the electricity to meet the farm's needs, but return about 25,000 to 30,000 kilowatts to the grid every year, enough for three or four houses.

And instead of chemicals, Crump uses birds.

An avid birder, Crump set up nest boxes throughout the farm to raise bluebirds, swallows and other birds that eat the insects that could harm his crops. Their excrement also makes a viable fertilizer. And while “it’s true that they do eat the grapes,” said Crump, many of the birds have migrated to warmer climates by the time the grapes have ripened, so loss is minimal.

“They’re giving me free pesticide, free fertilizer, and lots of free pleasure,” said Crump. The rewards far outweigh any trouble of maintaining the nesting boxes, he said, which he wishes more backyard birders would take into account.

Throughout the vineyard hike, Crump pointed out some of the many birds that have taken up residence on the farm, with particular attention to a group of five immature Kestrel hawks and their parents who patrol the vineyards looking for prey. Crump purposely leaves the grass tall in areas around the vineyard to provide cover for the many rabbits and small birds that could become meals for the hawks. The group of Kestrels has drawn the interest of birders across the country, and can be viewed on the vineyard’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Priam Vineyards).

One hiker who was particularly interested in the vineyard ecosystem was Kasha Breau, a wildlife specialist with the Connecticut Audubon Society. Breau specializes in rehabilitating birds of prey, and was intrigued by the Kestrels raised at the farm.

“I’m always looking for new places to release birds,” she said.

Crump said that his interest in birds and helping them survive goes way back, to when he realized just how many endangered species there are in the world.

“And there’s only one reason,” he said. “It’s us.”

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