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Editor's Letter

 

High Tech for Low Intervention

July 2011
 
by Jim Gordon
 
 
This is the seventh annual Technology Issue of Wines & Vines. Our team of writers stuffed it full of information about how to apply technology to your work whether you are a winemaker, grapegrower or wine marketer.

Two of the articles show just how dated the image of the little old vinegrower is. Remember the one who farms nobly by instinct and the seat of the pants? More and more, smart growers are applying the latest technology in their vineyards to grow better grapes that will make better wines.

Going mobile

 
VIDEO: Jim Gordon discusses vineyard technology

Vineyard managers and owners have sworn by their cell phones for years. They rarely sit in offices all day with computers and landlines nearby. Many of them figured out that the only way to keep in regular touch with their clients, crews and winemakers buying their grapes was to go mobile.

Then came the smartphone, and in what seemed like a very short time a whole new array of vineyard-management tools were available through the same device they had previously used only for conversation and text messages. In a truck, on an ATV or on foot, vineyard managers and foremen can now use their iPhones, Androids, iPads and other mobile devices to access GPS, monitor weather remotely, collect irrigation data and so on.

The cell phone and then the smartphone became so familiar and easy to use for most of us that they hardly seemed high tech at all. That familiarity could be what finally turned the tide on the use of computer technology and web-based applications in vineyards. Because the real innovation here is that you don’t have to lug the computer to the vineyard anymore to do computer-assisted vineyard management. All it takes is the phone that you already carry in your pocket, or maybe the iPad that fits in the glove box.

In the cover story, Wines & Vines senior correspondent Paul Franson details the various ways that mobile apps are changing how winegrapes are grown. We think these apps are logical, positive, time-saving and quality-enhancing products that likely give a competitive edge to those who adopt them.

Know the flow
Another article in this issue looks in depth at one specific application of vineyard technology: wireless sap-flow monitoring. David Gates, head of vineyard operations for Ridge Vineyards, is using a new measuring method at Ridge’s famous and historic Monte Bello estate vineyard near Cupertino, Calif. The purpose is to understand more thoroughly the vines’ water needs so that the minimal amount of irrigation can be used.

Gates’ specific focus was to better calculate water needs during the period after veraison and before harvest, when the health of the vine is of critical importance. As with other functions described in the cover story, this wireless water sensing can be followed on a mobile device. What’s unusual about this operation is the way the vine’s water status is monitored. Sensors strapped to four representative vines in a 5-acre block use thermocouples to help calculate how much sap is flowing, which in turn informs Ridge’s staff when the block is in a vine-water deficit. Then Gates can use his judgment and experience to add water to help the vines along.

Avoiding intervention
An observer on the outside might think that high-tech tools in the vineyard like this one mean overt intervention with the raw material for a great wine—something that might mess with the expression of terroir. But in this case, as in many similar situations, the new technology is valuable to the vineyard manager precisely because it helps him avoid intervening too much.

It’s too bad that grapegrowers and winemakers don’t brag about their use of high-tech tools like these more easily, however. Probably the marketing department tells them not to talk about machine harvesting, Flash Détente and wireless water sensing. Certainly many of their customers won’t care, but some of them will. I have been on this soapbox before. I believe that the more grapegrowers and winemakers talk about their tools, and build some awareness and appreciation among their audience, the better it will be in the long run.

Wines & Vines congratulates the early adopters of technology who are mentioned in this issue and the many others like them. We appreciate their openness in discussing the topics and sharing what they have learned with their peers.

 
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