Regardless of how glamorous the end product may seem, wine starts in the vineyard and grape growing is an agricultural activity.
By Barbara Barrielle
What will the vineyard of the future look like?
For starters, winegrowers must be nimble enough to adjust their practices in the face of
climate change and wildfires, uncertain water supplies, invasive pest infestations, rising prices and shifting consumer demand. At WIN Expo 2022 (December 1 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif.), you’ll hear from experts about new technologies and techniques that are preparing vineyard managers for what’s to come.
According to Duff Bevill, founder and partner of Bevill Vineyard Management, who manages almost 1,300 vineyard acres in Sonoma County, “In farming, you adapt and adjust. Otherwise, you lose your edge.” Bevill has managed vineyards for almost 50 years and says that the only thing you can count on in vineyard growing seasons — the thing that remains the same — is that every year will be dramatically different. He will be one of the speakers in the session titled “Vineyard of the Future: Combining Technology and Autonomy to Improve Profitability.”
A technology-driven future
The vineyard of the future will be dependent on technology. “Every vineyard property we manage has telematics monitoring irrigation, moisture and water retention,” says Bevill. He adds that heat spells and droughts are nothing new, but they are happening more frequently — and it’s getting hotter. California is experiencing drought and, Bevill says, we need to farm existing vineyards differently and plant new vineyards with this in mind while also addressing the challenges of labor shortages, insects, disease and smoke.
For example, to address heat spells, Bevill’s team has found that “light, brief irrigation” is working best; one gallon, delivered over an hour, seven days per week has been more effective than extended periods of watering. It also uses less than the standard 10 gallons per week that was the norm in the past.
Bevill further points out that labor inconsistencies and shortages drive much technological development, and we will continue to see technology entering all aspects of vineyard management, including mechanized harvesting and different canopy treatments that allow easier mechanical picking.
Bevill will be joined on this panel by vineyard managers from across California as well as Karisa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. Expect the conversation to range from tried- and-true advice to the latest trials and experiments — all in the name of vineyard health and future harvests.
Water conservation methods
In “Exploring Water-Conserving Practices in the Vineyard,” moderator Allison Jordan, executive director of California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance, will lead a conversation that’s top-of- mind for many right now, given the ongoing drought in California. Facing water restrictions and rising prices, growers must reinvent their irrigation practices to value every drop.
Panelist and Agrology CEO Adam Koepel will discuss what, he says, all specialty crop farmers need to face the challenges of the future (especially diminishing water resources): real data on the ground delivering predictive insight.
Initially working on the issue of water measurement to determine vineyard irrigation needs, Agrology now uses what he calls “ground truth arrays of sensors” to measure everything from volatile organic compounds in the air (VOCs) to humidity, temperature, irrigation issues, water retention, moisture and conductivity in the soils, and assessment of whether smoke in a vineyard is “fresh, dangerous smoke that will cause smoke taint on grapes, or whether it’s stale, older smoke that may not be dangerous.”
Joining Koepel on the panel will be Silver Oak Viticulturist Allison Bettis and American Vineyard Foundation (AVF) Chairman Tony Stephen. Both bring personal insight to the topic. Silver Oak’s sweeping sustainability efforts include monitoring irrigation, reducing indoor water use and potable water needs, filtering cellar water and using steam (not water) for prepping and cleaning barrels. The result has been a drastic reduction in water use.
AVF, a nonprofit organization that relies on voluntary industry support for research funding, has conducted multiple vineyard surveys and studies addressing water use and other vine-specific threats. Its ultimate goal is to unify the grape and wine industry through collaboration and shared information. Stephen will elaborate on AVF findings throughout the session.
Koepel says, “there is hope that soil health can be regenerated, carbons can be sequestered in soil and, in a year or two, the microbiome health can come roaring back.” He continues, “Growers working together can make farms more resilient to heat changes, more able to store water and more resistant to the threat of disease. This is a long-term story.”
Questions surrounding water supply color every vineyard decision being made today, and panelists will discuss both conservation strategies and how adding automation and monitoring can change the nature of vineyard practices — literally.
Pests plague vineyards
In the third vineyard and grower track session, “Pest Management: Mitigating the Impact of Today’s Pests and Preparing for Tomorrow’s Threats,” ag consultants and pest specialists will look at past and current pest threats to California vineyards, discuss detection/abatement techniques as well as provide an overview of potential threats coming in the future, including the spotted lanternfly.
How does the industry continue on its path toward sustainability and Earth-conscious growing while still addressing the host of invasive species waiting to land and wreak havoc? Nathan Miller of Helena Agri-Enterprises will moderate, and Kelsey Leslie of Wilbur-Ellis and Kyle McAbee of McAbee Ag will discuss finding that balance in this important session.
Pest controls required to produce healthy grapes differ based on vineyard location, vine variety and weather, and knowing when and how to intervene can be the difference between a blighted vineyard and a thriving one. Join this panel of experts to learn about the latest interventions, equipment and treatments aimed at securing vine health without negatively impacting the surrounding lands.
By focusing on a variety of vineyard challenges, the Vineyard and Growers track sessions will prepare the industry for the year to come by offering advice, support and solutions. The valuable information and insights are not to be missed.
We’ll see you at the Expo.