August 11, 2009

French Winemakers Reap Benefits From Satellite Technology

French winegrowers are harnessing the benefits of satellite imagery to enrich their grape harvests, combining modern technology with the ancient art of winemaking.

Originally developed to help producers of grain, the Oenoview system combines satellite images and vine analysis to assist oenologists in determining when grapes planted under varying conditions will be ready for harvest.

The system works by providing winemakers vital information about their berries, such as the amount of water the fruit contains and how much to prune the vines.

Along with makers of other luxury goods, winegrowers have struggled amid the global economic slowdown.  They say the Oenoview system is as a vital tool that helps conserve efforts and best determine when to harvest fruit.

"I am getting years of information," winemaker Stephen Carrier told the AFP news agency.

"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," said Carrier, who uses the system at the Chateau de Fieuzal vineyard in Graves, in southern France's famous Bordeaux wine region.

"That will allow me to work for future generations," he said.

Used infrared images obtained from the Taiwanese satellite Formosat 2, which passes over France every day, researchers discovered  a critical link between the quantity of vegetation on the vines and the quality of the grape. The data allows wine producers to meticulously prune each vine so  the berries reach their optimal ripeness.

Carrier is awaiting the latest system images, which he has been using since 2008, to prepare the harvest on his 210-acre vineyard.

Oenoview is the result of three years of collaboration between satellite imagery firm Infoterra and France's wine and vine institute.

"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," said Henri Douche from Infoterra's farming department, during an interview with AFP.
Wine lovers will also benefit from the system, which has helped discover new land for planting vines, resulting in a production boost.

"It has led to the discovery of 20 percent more plots where very good wine can be produced," Douche said.

Oenoview has several large wine-producing estates among its customers, with many cooperative wine producers also employing the service and sharing in the costs.  The system earns just more than one euro cent per bottle of grand cru. 


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