New vineyard technology 'something you could only dream about' 20 years ago
As the use of technology in the wine sector increases, it paints a very different picture of what New Zealand vineyards looked like several decades ago.
Artificial Intelligence is now being used to accurately count grapes as part of a new Lincoln Agritech research project.
Computerised systems could make early season predictions on the grape yield a vineyard was likely to harvest.
Electronic sensors accurately counted grapes, creating data which would be fed into computer algorithms, designed by the University of Canterbury, to predict grape yield at harvest time.
New data would be added to the system each year, improving accuracy with time as more data under different conditions were collected.
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Lincoln Agritech optics and image processing team leader Dr Jaco Fourie said profitable wine production depended on early knowledge of the grape yield each season.
"Estimating the yield as soon as possible allows marketers to know how much wine will end up being produced," he said.
He said wineries spent a lot of money trying to predict their grape yield each year by hiring large numbers of workers to manually sample grape bunches.
"A lot of these industries [kiwifruit and grape] need to pre-sell their crops," said his colleague, Lincoln Agritech business development manager Sophie Rebbeck.
"Ideally they can secure those markets earlier on and they'll get a better price," she said.
"Being more accurate will help the industry."
Marlborough-based Plant and Food scientist Dr Mike Trought said although the equipment was "still a work in progress", the use of technology helped viticulturists obtain more information about their vineyards, which was "absolutely critical to good grape production".
"It means the ability to produce and the reliability of achieving quality wine in the vineyard and winery is hugely better than it was," he said.
"These sort of developments, you go back 20 years, it was something you could only dream about ... And it's all ongoing."
Trought said with the increased use of technology in the wine sector, a vineyard today was "a very different world" to when he first started growing and researching grapes in the mid-80s.
"The industry has changed hugely in the past 25, 30 years," he said.
The main focus for the study was sauvignon blanc, and the research team will now work to identify further technology developments focused on pinot noir.
A collaboration between Plant and Food Research, Lincoln University, University of Canterbury, CSIRO and local winegrowers, the project was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and NZ Winegrowers.