Technology to Solve Problems
by Jim Gordon
While wine marketers like to cultivate the image of the humble vintner who crafts wine with traditional tools, the people who grow the grapes and process the wine are concentrating on a different type of cultivation. They emphasize a strong and growing trend toward high-tech tools and services that put ever-finer points on grapegrowing and winemaking. This is a good thing for wine quality. Growers and winemakers now use an incredible array of tests and tools they didn't have a decade ago, and more come online every month.
For this issue about technology, we concentrated on innovations designed specifically to answer some of the most challenging issues in viticulture and enology. Here are three good examples of individual technology innovations, and a fourth that shows how one winery integrates varying tech solutions.
Virus detection technology
Wines & Vines frequently covers new evidence of the rapid and alarming spread of leafroll disease. In this issue, Northwest correspondent Peter Mitham explains a promising new technique at Washington State University that measures light reflected off leaves to determine if a vine is infected with leafroll. (Read "Seeing Leafroll More Easily" on page 26.) Researchers hope that this way of detecting diseased vines will be much quicker and cheaper.
Leafroll detection is problematic for nurseries and individual growers who want to know if they have an infection (and, if they do, how fast it is spreading). Red leaves only appear late in the growing season, and sometimes not at all (especially in white varieties). Field trials of light-reflectance technology for leafroll detection remain three to four years off, and commercialization could take longer.
Soil composition technology
Even more difficult to see in the vineyard is what's happening underground. Vineyard View columnist Dr. Cliff Ohmart writes in "New View of Your Vineyard" (see page 60) that a company has adapted technologies previously used in other types of farming to provide grapegrowers more complete and accurate assessments of their soils.
The company promoting this soil service, Soil and Topography Information LLC, recently recruited Dr. Robert Wample, the longtime chair of the V&E department at California State University, Fresno, to help educate growers through personal client consultations. The service relies on electromagnetic conductivity to assess salinity, texture, organic matter and, importantly, water capacity. What's a more vital issue right now in our industry than water?
Brand protection technology
Allen Shoup, Washington state's master wine marketer and founder of Long Shadow Vintners, wrote in our July issue ("Protecting Your Fine Wine Image"), that changing rules of retailing are making it more difficult for vintners to track where wines are sold and be confident that their suggested prices are being honored.
New technology for brand protection promises to give wineries more information about their products' "lives" after they leave the loading dock, and also to protect consumers against counterfeit wine, Suzanne Gannon explains in her article, "New Ways to Fight Counterfeits." (See page 30.) Gannon, who last covered this topic for us in September 2008, delved into three radically different ways to mark and track wine bottles. Wineries making high-priced wines seem to be the ones most interested in these technologies. However, since advances in digital printing have given counterfeiters better tools, vintners with a range of price-points may soon find it valuable to add brand protection to their bottles.
Wrapping it up
All of this brings me back to the cover story. Few wineries in the world appreciate and employ computer technology to the same degree as Clos LaChance in California. Vintners leery of going digital in their operations have a great example in Clos LaChance of how vineyard and winery operations can be made more efficient and effective.
Thomas Ulrich visited the winery near Silicon Valley and spent time with a number of the company's technology users to see how the tech approach affects their daily tasks. His article, "From Soil to Sales" (see page 22), is a must-read for any grower or vintner who has been interested in using technology to improve his or her business but has been waiting for others to blaze the trail. Consider it blazed.
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