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Editor's Letter


Benefits of Science and Technology

March 2010
by Jim Gordon
Everybody loves the image of the little old vigneron trudging through his vineyard in the spring, beret on his head and hoe in his hand, sniffing the air for rain, making mental notes on the health of his vines, one by one, as he envisions the rich harvest to come in September.

As you know, however, there is a lot more to it than that. Admittedly, a lifetime spent farming the same plot of land would give a grower a big advantage. He would know the sections prone to drought, could follow the progress of disease across the vineyard, could estimate crop loads pretty accurately based on memory, and so on.

But that semi-mythical grapegrower of yore, I am sure, would have welcomed the kind of technological help available to vineyard owners and managers today. He could have learned as much in a few years as it may have taken decades to do with just his five senses.

This annual issue on Vineyard Equipment & Technology has several great examples of the benefits brought to winegrapes by science and technology. The cover story by Linda Jones McKee about bird netting is one example. Nets are not high tech, but they are definitely tech. The current lightweight versions are better than ever. Jones McKee also details how the equipment to apply and remove the nets has been improved by supplier companies and do-it-yourself growers.

Jon Tourney’s detailed report on the European grapevine moth’s invasion of Napa Valley is a good example of how science can quickly show the way to identify and manage a vine pest. Ag officials from Napa County, state and federal agencies organized a timely and detailed one-day seminar about the moth, which gave Tourney much of his information for this helpful report. Local growers and the viticulture establishment got this moth in their sights quickly, thanks to years of research in other areas and the rapid communication available today.

Beneficial insects or, more accurately, the plants that beneficials are attracted to, are the subject of Gaylene Ewing’s article about cover crops. Here is a classic case of field research that was simple in concept but yielded potentially very useful results. Ewing, with the Central Coast Vineyard Team, helped Ridge Vineyards as part of its integrated pest management program to see which approach to cover crops attracted the most “good” insects and the fewest pests.

You might think there’s nothing high-tech about an end post, but if you saw the variety of posts being used in Europe you might think differently. Peter Mitham came back from the SIMEI equipment show in Milan with a report on alternatives to wooden posts that bears reading for the probable day to come when wood becomes too expensive. From a sustainability/carbon footprint point of view, concrete, plastic and steel may be in your future.

One guy who actively embraces the latest equipment and technology for vineyards is Paul Johnson, the Monterey County, Calif., vineyard manager who Laurie Daniel interviewed for this month’s grapegrower Q & A. From mechanical pruning and leafing to a new electrostatic sprayer, Johnson puts it all to use in his clients’ vineyards, saving money while apparently maintaining or improving fruit quality compared to more traditional labor-intensive practices. Read the interview to get a sense of whether or not your own operation would benefit from more sophisticated technology.

Technology may be very useful in the vineyard, but what is its cost for the environment? Our long-time Vineyard View columnist, Cliff Ohmart, dissects the concept of a carbon neutral vineyard and what it takes to earn this status. Hint: Money is involved, not just good farming.

This issue is not totally dedicated to grapegrowing, however. Our Inquiring Winemaker, Tim Patterson, re-examines lees filtration in light of new equipment that helps recover more wine. Clark Smith writes his third Postmodern Winemaking column for Wines & Vines, explaining why micro-oxygenation is such a valuable tool and how to assess the equipment you need to apply it.

Here’s to the beginning of a new growing season! I hope that your buds don’t break until after the last frost, and that you enjoy this issue of Wines & Vines.

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