The Western Farm Press have a vision of vineyards of the future, and it looks a little like this:
“…one sensor will measure the amount of photosynthetic energy being absorbed by vine canopies at any time of day. Others will sense moisture levels from leaves and soil. A variable-rate irrigation system can then supply just the right amount of water and fertilizer. All the info can be collected, processed and seen by growers in real time through their mobile devices so they can make informed decisions quickly.”
Washington State University’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems have started working with University of California at Davis on a three-year, $2.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project to bring this highly technical future into reality for wineries.
“This research is aimed at developing and integrating soil- and plant-based sensors to monitor the state and condition of plant canopies for optimizing management within orchards and vineyards,” said Qin Zhang, WSU CPAAS director.
WSU is also investigating modifications to their mobile-based suite to monitor water stress of grapevines. Additions include infrared thermography to detect temperature distribution patterns of sunlit and shaded canopies, as well as a handheld light bar and multispectral camera to measure PAR absorption under different water stress levels.
“This is a very challenging task,” stated Zhang. “We’re giving growers a basic algorithm, and they can choose the interface. Some want a paper copy of the data analysis; others want it on their iPhone. Some want results in color; others in black and white. Some want to see something in 3-D; others in 2-D. It’s difficult to please everybody. The important thing is to make the information available visually in real time.”
This is the boring-nerdy-technical side of the industry. The side that people probably know exists, but don’t really want to acknowledge. Then again, progress is progress and why should wineries/grape growers be any different than any other industry? They still need to change with the times like everyone else!
No matter how big or small, wineries are always going to have an element of romance associated with them by the consumer. To this end, imagine you’re in a small family owned winery in Sonoma. You look out out the tasting room windows onto the vineyard and see: mechanized grape harvesters, miles of Cat5 cable and fiber-optic wires running between the vines, with electronic monitoring stations planted at the end of the vine rows where rose bushes once stood. All of this whilst the winemaker stands next to you, iPad in one hand controlling everything in the vineyard, whilst he pours his new-release Chardonnay with the other hand, waxing poetically about the “non-interventionist approach” he takes towards winemaking.
I can’t help but think that this “vision” of the future might kill the mood for the average winery visitor ever so-slightly…but maybe it’s just me…being an old romantic…
The reason I published this article was that it got me thinking: I wonder how many wineries will make every effort to hide any levels of mechanization, automation and technology away from winery visitors, in order to adhere to their expectation of a winery? If I was a winery owner, I would! It’s a topic which maybe isn’t “hot” at the moment, but as the years progress I think it will be.
What was discussed in this article was probably leaning more towards the larger grape growers, so the “small family owned winery in Sonoma” example is maybe slightly exaggerated…but it’s only a matter of time before this level of tech filters down.