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Innovative approach to curb vineyard threat wins award

Adam Beak
Posted by Adam Beak
Agribusiness Banking

As in other Ag sectors, companies in the wine industry are increasingly looking to innovation to help address challenges – whether for familiar problems like pest management or for weather-specific hurdles like drought.

Closeup on purple grapes dangling from vines that are suspended by wooden posts in a vineyard.In fact, an innovative approach to curb a harmful plant virus – Grapevine Leafroll Disease (GLD) – was recognized in January with the Vintage Report Innovation Award presented by Bank of the West.

The award, designed to encourage bold ideas in the wine industry, was created in 2013 when the Premium Wine Group joined with Fruition Sciences, an information technology company that helps winemakers and grape growers monitor plant physiology. Now in its third year, the award recognizes the most innovative vineyard-based approach of the 2015 vintage.

Monitoring a virus

This year’s winning entry was a collaborative experiment by Monica Cooper, PhD (in photo below, center), Melissa Staid, PhD, and Sarah MacDonald, PhD, supported by UC Cooperative Extension and VineView. The approach presented a new way to manage GLD by using hyperspectral airborne imaging to identify diseased vines.

Vintage Innovation award winner Monica Cooper (center), with Adam Beak on the right. The woman on left is from a sponsoring vineyard.GLD occurs in every grape-growing region in the world and infects wine, juice, and table grape cultivars, as well as rootstocks. While not lethal, the disease can lead to decreased fruit quality and pigmentation, altered amino acid profiles, delayed maturity and yield reductions.

Cooper, Staid, and MacDonald’s approach builds on a preliminary study completed at Washington State University that used laboratory spectral measurements of leaves to identify GLD. Their experiment focused on field-testing and commercialization of the technology. The leafroll mapping technology was developed and provided by VineView. Aerial imaging offers an efficient, non-destructive, and relatively inexpensive alternative to the standard, labor-intensive ways of detecting GLD: field scouting and lab analysis. The technology allows vineyards to gather data from thousands of acres of vines in a single three-hour flight.

The experiment used a Cessna equipped with a hyperspectral camera system to fly over vineyards at altitudes between 2000 and 4000 feet, resulting in spatial resolutions of approximately 0.25 to 0.50 m/pixel and providing enough detail to allow for the analysis of clean and infected vines, soil, and cover crop components. The experiment achieved an average detection success rate of 94.6%, with fewer than 6% of vines misidentified. Looking ahead, Cooper, Staid, and MacDonald hope to expand their experiment from its initial focus on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to other cultivars, as well as to explore its effectiveness at identifying other plant pathogens.

Other vineyard innovations

In addition to choosing a winning entry, the judges also select two finalists for 2015.

  • In an experiment led by Tres Goetting, Robert Biale Vineyards and Tres Sabores Vineyards used high-resolution, deep-soil moisture monitoring; strategically placed, real-time soil sensors; and a new software analytics tool to better understand water availability across the highly varied soil series where their grapes are grown.
  • Controlling powdery mildew presents a big challenge when farming organically, and Ridge Vineyards is one of the largest organic growers in Sonoma County. Led by Will Thomas and David Gates, Ridge Vineyards’ experiment used spore traps to detect the pathogen’s presence before it could be seen and to track how spores moved across the vineyards.

As in previous years, the winner had an opportunity to share their approach with winemakers, viticulturists and scientists at the Vintage Report Conference in Napa on January 19, furthering the conversation and spreading awareness about new ideas that can have a broader impact across the industry.

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