Shiraz grapes growing in South Australia's Barossa Valley
Precision Viticulture: understanding vineyard variability
Precision Viticulture research is helping grapegrowers and winemakers optimise vineyard performance according to yield, quality and natural resource management goals.
27 June 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011
Optimising vineyard performance
Land is variable. As a consequence, productivity across farms and paddocks is also variable. Grapegrowers and winemakers have known about vineyard variability for as long as they have been growing grapes and making wine.
However, without methods for observing or reacting to this variation, they have been forced to treat it as ‘noise’ and to manage large blocks as though they were uniform.
CSIRO’s Precision Viticulture (PV) research seeks to exert more control over the production system by recognising vineyard variation and managing different areas differently, according to a range of goals. Our objective in doing this is to increase the likelihood that the outputs from the production system are the desired ones.
PV addresses variation through the use of enabling technologies, including the global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS), coupled with tools for measuring and monitoring vineyards at high spatial resolution, such as remote sensing, yield monitors and high resolution soil survey.
“Grapegrowers have known for ever and a day that vineyards are variable. Precision Viticulture gives them the tools to see that variation and to do something about it.”
Dr Rob Bramley, Team Leader, Precision Viticulture
Our recent research has focused on understanding the nature, extent and causes of vineyard variability and on helping grapegrowers and winemakers to use PV tools to better target their management.
Our results support many commercial examples in demonstrating that PV strategies can be highly profitable.
Under a system of zonal management, water, fertiliser and pruning can be applied according to the specific needs of different areas within the same vineyard block.
The use of selective harvesting according to yield and quality criteria provides the opportunity to allocate different parcels of fruit from within the same block to different product streams.
Key findings from our work to date include:
grape yield typically varies by eight to ten-fold in vineyards under uniform management
patterns of yield variation are stable in time and are driven by soil or topographic variation
patterns of variation in fruit quality tend to follow those for yield, although not necessarily in the same rank order.
We have also demonstrated that traditional approaches to vineyard soil surveys (75 m grid) are too blunt an instrument to provide an understanding of the reasons for variability in vineyard performance.
More effective is careful examination of soils at points strategically chosen by using high resolution survey tools such as electromagnetic measurements (EM38).
These new survey methods are being adopted to underpin the granting of irrigation licences in some Australian winegrowing regions.
Developing new experimental techniques
Much of our recent work has focused on using high resolution spatial data as an input to vineyard (re)-design, developing new methods for viticultural experimentation, using careful soil management to manipulate vine performance and using our understanding of variability to control wine flavour and aroma in the vineyard.
New approaches to experimentation, in which traditional plot-based vineyard experiments are replaced by whole-of-vineyard trials, give valuable insights into how vineyard variability can be managed.
Tools such as yield monitors are used to understand the variable response of vines to different management practices and to explore opportunities for improved, more targeted management.
Our soil work is part of the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation’s Soil and Water Initiative which aims to fill some of the knowledge gaps that are currently preventing viticulturalists from tailoring grape production to market demands.
We are also involved in the Food Futures Flagship, in work that relates vineyard variability to the flavour and aroma of wines.
The aim of this work is to enable us to respond to changes in the wine value chain – from vineyard to consumer and back again.
Download more information and resources about Dr Rob Bramley: understanding variability in agricultural production.