May 12-13, 2020
Santa Rosa, CA
From robots and drones in the vineyard, to sophisticated new blockchain and cryptocurrency offerings, wineries are taking dramatic steps to update the level of cutting-edge technology they deploy in order to make higher-quality wines and boost overall profitability. In some cases, this embrace of technology has been driven by external factors - such as the extreme fluctuations in temperatures resulting from climate change. In other cases, the changes are being driven by the increasingly blurred line between the tech industry and the wine industry. With that in mind, here are five wineries using cutting-edge technologies.
When it comes to the use of robots in the vineyard, one region that is leading the charge for mainstream adoption is the Upper Douro Valley in Portugal. As profiled by Wine Enthusiast magazine, Symington Family Estates will become the first-ever trial winery for agricultural robots developed by the Agricultural Robotics Lab in Spain. VineScout is a first-of-its-kind robotic vineyard project that uses mobile robots to measure thousands of different data points of importance to winegrowers, including canopy temperature, nitrogen levels, and water levels. Using sensors and an experimental machine vision system, VineScout is able to collect the type of data that would be almost impossibly out of reach of traditional vineyards. For most vineyards, manual data sampling is simply an unaffordable luxury. The goal of the program at Symington Family Estates will be to boost overall vineyard management, produce higher-quality grapes, and provide much-needed decision-making support for everything from irrigation to fertilization.
If you thought the development of cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based offerings was only for fintech startups located n Silicon Valley and other tech hotspots around the world, think again. In 2018, Costaflores Organic Vineyard in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza launched the first-ever wine-backed crypto asset. The vineyard also launched a blockchain-powered OpenVino project, with the primary goal of turning the winery into an open-source winery. All growing practices, all work flows, and the entire financial operations of the winery will be published to a public blockchain - meaning that anyone in the world can peer into the winery’s operations and determine a fair price for Costaflores wine. Each crypto token will be linked to a single bottle of wine, each of which will be sold at cost price (without any markup from wine industry middlemen). The first wine-backed crypto asset will be linked to a 2018 blend of three grapes (Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon). As the winery’s owner has promised, Costaflores “will expose all to the world.” Costaflores now refers to itself as “the world’s first open-source, transparent winery,” and a key reason for that is the winery’s early embrace of blockchain technology.
One of California’s original “Rhone Rangers” - the winemaker John Alban - is now spearheading the use of drones in the vineyard for aerial crop analysis. Each drone can be used to survey up to 1,000 acres a day, making drone-based analysis of crops and harvests a key part of overall harvest management. Data collected by these aerial drones can lead to advanced insights into wine vigor, ripeness variability and disease management. If the use of drones in the vineyards takes off, it’s possible that winemakers around the world will be able to take a (literal) birds-eye view of which areas of their vineyards need the most day-to-day attention. Alban’s drones even emulate hawk squawks in order to scare away birds that might impact overall crop yield.
Some vineyards are more exposed than others to crop loss due to birds and other unwanted visitors. Cutting-edge technology developed by the Bird Control Group in the Netherlands is now being used by several wineries around the world, including Bodega Catena Zapata in Argentina. In fact, Bodega Catena claims that it has completely eliminated bird-based crop loss, via a unique program to scare away hungry parrots with lasers. This laser-based system is more efficient and easier to deploy than other systems that rely on loud sounds to scare away birds.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming to Napa Valley, in the form of remote sensors used for measuring real-time water usage. These sensors, when hooked up to the Internet, can provide critical insights into irrigation management. The potential to reduce water usage is profound. These cost savings related to better irrigation management can then be used to improve the overall profitability of the winery.
These five vineyards are at the forefront of new cutting-edge innovations that promise to revolutionize not just how wines are made and produced, but also how they are distributed, sold and marketed. Tales of robots in the vineyards, or of wineries offering crypto assets might sound high-tech and futuristic, but they are actually real-world examples taking place today.