Precision viticulture in the news
Interesting to see the BBC news site pick up on a story about English winegrowers using precision viticulture.
It's not really new technology - it has been around for a while, and I wrote a chapter on it in my wine science book (happy to send this chapter to anyone who is interested - email me). But it's a sign of the progress being made in the UK wine industry that people are thinking of applying it here.
How does it work? The principal behind PV is to understand the natural variability in your vineyard and then work with it. In a sense, growers have always done this: they've noticed blocks that reach ripeness earlier, for example, or have struggled with particular disease pressures. The new tools make this sort of zoning much quicker and more precise.
Satellite imagery at appropriate points in the growing season, using a range of wavelengths of light, can be used to generate what's called an NDVI (normalized differential vegetation index, so effectively what is being measured is vigour), and with some computer processing, you can make a map of your vineyard showing the homogeneous blocks (that is, the ones that are similar). If these are similar year-on-year, you can then treat these blocks differently, and pick them at different times. The result is improved quality. It's terroir in action.
Another way of doing this, when you have a large vineyard that is mechanically harvested, is to use a yield monitor on your harvester, together with a GPS system.
In the UK, most vineyards are small enough that you can walk round them a number of times during the season and see what is going on. I'd be surprised if there was a huge need for remote imagery, but it is a really powerful technique that can raise quality in more commercial vineyards.
Labels: wine science