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B.C. Grapegrowers Urged to Embrace Data

Speakers address GPS, GIS and geomatics at Okanagan Valley conference

by Peter Mitham
B.C. Wine Grape Council
Participants at the B.C. Wine Grape Council's annual conference take notes about how to handle grapes.
Penticton, British Columbia—Old chestnuts and new discoveries—and the chance to network—attracted more than 250 growers per day to this year’s conference of the B.C. Wine Grape Council and the associated tradeshow.

While traffic on the show floor seemed light, participants crowded the seminar rooms to receive an update from José Ramón Úrbez-Torres of the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, B.C., regarding grapevine trunk diseases worldwide; a presentation by Glenn McGourty, University of California farm advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties and a Wines & Vines columnist, about trends in environment-friendly farming, and Washington State University professor Markus Keller discussing cold hardiness.

The presentations underscored the need for growers to update time-tested knowledge to meet new demands placed on them by a changing environment and a growing awareness of the many variables at play when growing grapes and making wine.

Prior pasteurization
Monika Christmann of Germany’s Geisenheim Research Center, for example, said an increase in unwanted microbes and enzymes on grapes in German vineyards has prompted researchers to investigate pasteurization prior to fermentation as a strategy to stabilize must and boost wine quality.

Washington State University extension viticulturist Michelle Moyer discussed the importance of canopy management in rain-fed viticulture systems as well as management strategies for powdery mildew and botrytis bunch rot.

Powdery mildew has been a significant concern for growers across the Northwest for the past two years, though less so in British Columbia. Moyer busted myths regarding dormant lime sulfur treatments and encouraged a close eye to canopy management in order to ensure adequate spray coverage and good air circulation to manage the disease. She also encouraged growers to ensure spray equipment is performing up to snuff—something a straw poll of the audience indicated growers were doing, even as Moyer presented the results of a grower survey in Washington State indicating that spray equipment regularly falls short regardless of grower maintenance.

Data generation
Andrew Reynolds of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, highlighted the growing importance of data collection and precision viticulture in grapegrowing. “Your generation is going to be one of data acquisition,” he told the audience, targeting his comments to younger growers.

While global positioning and geographic information systems (GPS and GIS) technology have been around for years, Reynolds noted that they have gone mainstream—most notably with navigating systems for vehicles, but also with cheaper vineyard mapping systems. While cost is still an obstacle to the widespread use of the technology for vineyard mapping and analysis, Reynolds said mapping drones can size up vineyards from $1,000.

Geomatics—the gathering and analysis of geographic information—in Ontario has given growers a better sense of vineyard characteristics, including confirming and underscoring the attributes of sub-appellations in the Niagara region.

Posted on 07.19.2012 - 18:41:48 PST
I love to hear that GPS, GIS, and geomatics (surveying) is being brought up to our viticulturalists. Information is power, and the better you are informed, the better decisions you can make. Spatial is special. You are taking your data, e.g. insect infestation, and putting it on a map. With this you can spot spatial trends that you could miss by viewing a spreadsheet. GIS is my expertise, beside wine evaluation, and would love to talk more with wineries and vineyard managers about this topic.

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