COMING SOON – WINE UNTOUCHED BY HUMAN HAND
In October 2016 I wrote an article contrasting two vineyard philosophies – on the one hand, in a delightfully bucolic cameo, camels were being used in the harvest of one of the bodegas in the Canary Isles; on the other, worryingly(?) state-of-the-art and science fiction-like, in mainland Spain drones were being employed (you can read it archived here www.colinharknessonwine.com/articles/ – please scroll down a short way to ‘Spain’s Dynamic Wine World’)
The bodega group in question, Matarromera, has added to their use of vineyard based sensors and satellite imaging, the strategic deployment of drones, before, and during their harvests. The drones have been programmed (don’t ask me how) to detect where vines are stressed, where grapes are diseased and when optimum ripeness has been achieved. That’s, vineyard by vineyard, and indeed each part of each vineyard (as ripening will occur at different rates, depending on aspect to the sun, wind etc.). We are talking precision farming here.
Now, I don’t want to be alarmist, but, watch out (particularly if you are a vineyard worker!), in a classic pincer movement robots are now in vineyards either side of Spain, in Portugal and in France, and coming this way, sin duda!
At Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac, the work of the drones above is being performed, by TED, a prototype robot, guided by GPS, camera and laser! Plus, TED is also responsible for the more repetitive, mundane, and indeed menial travails of the vineyard worker.
Over to the west, in the vineyards of the Symington Estates of Portugal similar experiments are occurring, in partnership with the EU, I might add(!). It’s all on an experimental basis we are assured! Furthermore, management are vehement in stating that there will always be a place for manual work (and therefore human workers) in the production of top class wines!
And in what may appear as rather ironic, given the camel story above, these high tech experiments, we are told, ‘will lead to an acceleration of their move to organic and biodynamic principles’. Quite how, I can only guess!
During one of my 4k power-walks (a combination of physiotherapy following my 2nd knee replacement and a continued effort to combat some of the excesses of the festive season!) I recently stopped to chat with a chap working in a vineyard full of Moscatel vines. Like a gnarled and warped regiment standing to attention, as best they could, the vines looked older than the 15 – 20yrs I was told that they were.
The alleys between the rows looked like they had a swathe of frost retained after a chilly night, but in fact it was nitrogen crystals being sown by my new friend. On asking why, he told me that he was concerned that with such a lack of water the vines were suffering as if being slowly starved. The trunks of the vines were becoming thinner and this was an attempt to give them some nourishment, whilst waiting (hoping?) for the next rains. Global Warming/Climate Change is happening!
We chatted also about how he would normally expect these vines to live for 80+ years, producing fewer bunches of grapes as age takes its toll, but in fact increasing the quality of those that the vines do manage to manufacture. Whilst shrugging his shoulders in an apparent acceptance of the vines lot, it was clear that he was concerned that they might not make it to octogenarian status!
It is true that a vine needs to suffer a little to produce its best. However, there is, of course, a degree of tolerance above which it cannot go. I do hope that the generation that follows my friend, and indeed the one after, can still enjoy the wine, and the income, that these Moscatel vines are currently providing!
If so, I wonder if the wine will be made by robots, with drones providing aerial cover from above, untouched by human hand?