22 October 2009
Monitoring vine vigour from space
"The vines you see here have dense green leaves. But just a little further on, you can see the difference. The foliage is thinner and has a reddish tinge. So the grapes here are perfect for our 'grand cru'.”
Estate manager Stephen Carrier knows each row like the back of his hand, even more so since he discovered satellite vegetation mapping.
So does he see this new technology as something of a revolution? “No, it's an evolution,” he maintains.
Henri Douche, head of agriculture and environment applications at Infoterra France, points out the benefits of Oenoview*, the result of a partnership between Astrium Infoterra (a subsidiary of EADS) and the ICV, France's leading wine consultancy institute:
“The Oenoview service uses multispectral satellite imagery as the basis for personalized consultancy on vine management. The imagery from Taiwan's FORMOSAT-2 satellite (at 2-metre resolution) is processed using procedures developed by Infoterra to produce a map of vine vigour. These maps are then interpreted by viticulture specialists at the institute to provide technical decision support for winemakers in the field.”
“Satellite technology will save us a lot of time—in the next 4 to 5 years we can make up 30,” affirms Stephen Carrier.
“Vines are planted for 30 to 40 years. To make a good red, once the grapes have formed they need to be under a certain degree of water stress. They mustn't have too much moisture. On the 1st map of our vineyards on 21 September 2008, we can clearly distinguish green areas of dense foliage (meaning there was too much water in the soil) and red or purplish areas where there was less moisture, which points to a good vintage. So, we can now differentiate grapes at the same stage of maturity and send them to specific vats. It's what you might call 'precision harvesting'.”
In 2009, Chateau de Fieuzal signed a three-year contract with Infoterra for a satellite map of the estate each July.
This is the time of year when the grapes begin to ripen, swell and change colour… The service costs around 50 euros per hectare per year.
“That's very reasonable when you think the wine sells for 30 euros a bottle,” adds Stephen Carrier. Satellite maps can also help winegrowers to optimize fertiliser input and make irrigation more efficient.
* The Oenoview system won the bronze trophy in the agriculture and new technologies category at the 2009 International Agricultural Show in Paris.