Vineyard mapping is in its early days, but already Brock University researcher Andy Reynolds sees promise for optimizing inputs to produce wines at different price points.
The allure of Niagara’s peninsula region is its glacial soils from 10,000 years ago. However, their variability is notorious in terms of texture, depth and water-holding capacity. These variables can impact vine vigour and yield. Creative wineries use these subtle differences in vineyard blocks, some less than one hectare in size, to produce high-value wines.
Thirty Bench Winery, for example, produces four Riesling wines based upon individual blocks. Coyote Run produces several Pinot Noir wines from adjacent vineyard blocks.
While remote sensing has provided valuable data for prescriptive measures -- a little more nitrogen in this row and less over there for example -- newer technologies are at hand. Trimble’s GreenSeeker crop sensing program can be used on a tractor or ATV to go down the vineyard rows to collect spectral reflectance data from the canopy. The spectral reflectance indicates that darker leaves are likely rich in nitrogen whereas chlorotic leaves may be deficient in nitrogen, iron and manganese.
While some of this research has been ongoing since 1998, Reynolds and his research crew from the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) started in earnest in 2014 with GreenSeeker in six Ontario vineyards and expanded the scope to 18 vineyards last year to include remote-sensing drones. The sampling grids in each vineyard were evaluated for yield, berry size and composition, vine water status and soil moisture.
“The data we collected (by GreenSeeker and drones) does appear to correspond to yield components such as clusters per vine, berry weight and vine size,” says Reynolds.
The goal is to map the vineyards so that management practices can be tweaked in real-time. For example, with a serious grapevine leafroll virus outbreak, specific vines can be identified and removed.
In 2014, several vineyard blocks were suspected of grapevine leafroll virus. Vineyard mapping confirmed the hot zones of the disease. The grower was able to drop some crop to compensate for the disease.
To date, growers are showing polite interest says Reynolds. “Growers need to know how this technology will help.”
In agronomic crops, Reynolds points out that variable-rate sprayers, fertilizer and lime spreaders are in common use to minimize variability. However, vineyards are perennial systems. Vine size and yield variability are inherent in each vineyard, challenging growers’ management skills. In the not too distant future, these vagaries may be more easily managed through vineyard mapping.