Bordeaux is a melting pot of hitech sophistication and traditional techniques; on the one hand you have oxen and plough horses reintroduced into the vineyards and on the other you have drones and robots. Chateaux are now utilising the best of both worlds in their constant quest for quality.
The Vitirover robot is the brainchild of Xavier David Beaulieu, owner of Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion. His family have owned Coutet for over 400 years but Xavier David is not stuck in the past. His background in software and electronics put him in a prime position to address the problem of managing grass in the vineyards. In viticulture herbicides (weedkillers) are frowned on and grass is encouraged amongst the vines as it regenerates biological life in the soil and fights against erosion and subsidence. However the downside is that grass needs to be kept under control – his solution was a micro mowing robot: Vitirover.
Vitirover is solar powered, has GPS steering, is lightweight and there is no risk that it will cut or injure the vines (even if Vitirover is within 2cm of the vine). It’s a great idea and apart from the benefits of zero risk to the vines it has zero running costs and zero stress (it can be operated by an app on a smart phone).
Another innovation is the Vitidrones Project which is expected to offer drones to chateaux this year. Vitidrones is a project to support precision viticulture and the drones can be used to detect disease in the vines, locate weeds, assess water stress, monitor grape maturity and plant vigour. The drones are equipped with sensors, thermal and infrared cameras and are capable of taking thousands of photos per minute. Coupled with image analysis systems the drones are many times more powerful than human observation.
Bernard Magrez, owner of Chateaux Pape Clement (Graves), La Tour Carnet (Haut Medoc), Fombrauge (Saint Emilion) and Haut Peyraguey (Sauternes) has announced that he will be deploying drones in his Grand Cru vineyards. Magrez is a prime example of combining tradition with technology – in 2012 he introduced two Gascon oxen to Pape Clement which are used to plough between the narrow rows of vines.
He described the drone as ‘a management and measurement tool, for immediate diagnostic and rapid identification of the vines’ needs with an accuracy within centimetres.’
The drone will support the vineyards in the identification of areas requiring special attention on spray treatment, fertilization and soil maintenance . With an infrared camera , it is also able to measure the ripeness of the grapes to maximize the harvest from one plot to another. It will also be a valuable tool to assist in drainage and soil management of individual plots and aid in decision making around new plantings.
The agricultural drone has been hailed as invaluable to crop diagnostics and in Japan the drones have replaced 95% of the jobs involving pesticide application in rice fields which were previously done by helicopter. It seems that Bordeaux chateaux are keen to follow suit – Basile Tesseron of Chateau Lafon Rochet said
‘We used to hire a helicopter to take pictures, but it was expensive and not great for our carbon footprint. At €400 [£340], the drone is virtually the cheapest bit of equipment we’ve ever invested in.’
It’s still early days but Gilles Brainceau, director of Inno’vin (who are working to develop projects for the use of drones for wine applications), hopes that as demand increases the price will become more affordable as more chateaux take up the drones.