The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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{ }  87 have a record that you can compare to the next week or next growing season. There's less room for guessing when you can store images and compare them." Paschina is experimenting with a DJI Phantom 2 Vision drone, a $1,300 prosumer-qual- ity flying camera that allows you to shoot HD photos and video and view in real-time from your smartphone or tablet. With little practice, the drone can be operated manually or programmed to fly a certain path thus you might compare dates and vineyards with scientific precision. Used this way, a basic UAS affords a fast, vast, bird's-eye view to supplement a grower's limited ground observations. Moving up the tech ladder, advanced UAS pack a suite of analytical tools and multi- spectral sensors that connect growers to a data pool far beyond basic harvest manage- ment and crop health. "One of the biggest trends is the ability to identify moisture. We can quantify water content of soil and vines," said Lia Riech, Director of Marketing for PrecisionHawk, an industry leader. With the right sensors and software, you can conduct plant counting, mapping and yield forecasting from your office, doing in an hour what would've taken an entire day and a field team. That's a strong return on a $20,000 investment. When The Sommelier Journal first wrote about precision viticulture ("Vino-Tech: Decoding Terroir One Terabyte at a Time," December 2010) the tools were expensive and complex. Now they're affordable, streamlined and more automated. You can even farm-out these services to a rising number of firms likeAgri-Trend that manage an arsenal of remote-viewing tools for-hire. "The more you can keep the human out of the loop," added Reich, "the less the chance for error and disaster." With major safety and privacy issues still at stake, UAS legislation is a Wild West ter- ritory where rule-of-law is murky and fluid. In the U.S., the FAA has declared it unlawful to use drones for commercial use (if using a drone allows a grower to increases yield, that's "commercial use"), but due to push-back, the FAA is granting exemptions while it promises to iron-out its drone regulations over the next 18–24 months. One thing is off the table: Amazon's dream of delivering packages via drone has been shelved, for now at least. So maybe a UAS won't be schlepping bottles right to our doorstep, but chances are high that more and more wines will be made from grapes that were overseen by a viticulturist with extra eyes in the sky. How big a leap it is from that to a Syrah-Grenache blend named "Drone Valley Red" is anyone's guess. While some winegrowers are using drones for precision viticulture pur- poses, Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards also sees the elegant benefit of a unique photographic perspective. Here, an overhead view of the ruins of Barbour Mansion, designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1814 and destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1884.

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