Raise a glass to hitech wine
Leognan - French winegrowers are reaping the benefits of satellite imagery to improve their grape harvests, in a fusion of cutting-edge technology and the ancient art of winemaking.
The Oenoview system - initially developed to help grain producers - combines satellite pictures and vine analysis to allow oenologists to determine when grapes planted in varying conditions across sprawling estates will be ready.
It indicates to winegrowers important information about the berries, such as the amount of water in the fruit and how much to prune back their vines.
Wine producers, challenged like other luxury goods industries by the global economic downturn, have hailed the service as a vital tool which will save much painstaking effort and help them to better figure out when to pick their produce.
"I am getting years of information," said winemaker Stephen Carrier, who uses the system at the Chateau de Fieuzal vineyard in Graves, part of the famous Bordeaux wine region in southern France.
"Rather than waiting years and then being able to say 'Ah, I know my plots of land,' I have a tool that I can pass down.
"That will allow me to work for future generations," added Carrier, himself the son of winemakers from the French Champagne region.
Using infrared images collected from the Taiwanese satellite Formosat 2, which flies over France every day, researchers also uncovered a vital link between the amount of vegetation on the vines and the quality of the grape.
This information allows wine producers like Carrier to prune each vine carefully, helping the berries reach their optimal ripeness.
Carrier is awaiting the latest computer images from the system, which he has been using since 2008, to prepare the harvest on his 85-hectare vineyard.
Oenoview is the fruit of three years of collaboration between France's wine and vine institute and satellite imagery firm Infoterra.
"Our work was to collect different indicators which can be picked up via satellite and then combine them with analyses from the wine institute on the grapes," explains Henri Douche, from the farming department of Infoterra.
Wine lovers will also toast the invention which has led to the discovery of new land suitable for planting vines, leading to a boost in production for some growers.
"It has led to the discovery of 20% more plots where very good wine can be produced," said Douche.
Oenoview, which counts several big wine-producing estates among its customers, earns just more than one euro cent per bottle of grand cru.
Several cooperative wine producers also use the service, and share the cost.