Winemakers Adapt to Global Warming with Owls and Technology

(p. 7) As California heats up, winemakers are confronting new challenges large and small — some very small.
Mice, voles and gophers love vineyards. “We’re seeing more pest pressures due to warmer winters,” Ms. Jackson said, walking through rows of cabernet grapes. Another emerging issue: Grapes ripen earlier, and swallows and crows are eating fruit before the harvest. “It’s a big problem,” she said.
That explains the owls. Sixty-eight boxes are occupied by hungry barn owls; during the harvest, a falconer comes to some vineyards every day, launching a bird of prey to scare away other birds with a taste for grapes.
The Jacksons have also begun analyzing their crops with increasingly sensitive tools. Ms. Jackson recently installed devices that measure how much sap is in the vines. They transmit the data over cellular networks to headquarters, where software calculates how much water specific areas of vineyards do or don’t need. “Data-driven farming,” Ms. Jackson said.
The Jacksons are also monitoring their crops using drones equipped with sensors that detect moisture by evaluating the colors of vegetation. The wrong color can indicate nutritional deficiencies in the crops, or irrigation leaks.
“Previously, it would require an experienced winemaker to go and look at the grapes,” said Clint Fereday, the company’s director of aviation. “Now we can run a drone, tag an area of the vines with GPS, and go right to the spot that has a problem.”
The drones have other uses, too. An infrared camera can scan for people guarding illicit marijuana operations on nearby lands.
Not all the changes being made on the Jackson vineyards involve advanced technology. Some are simply ancient farming techniques that the drought has made increasingly relevant.
Field hands plant cover crops, like rye and barley, between every second row of vines, to help keep the soil healthy. The family is stepping up its composting program. Pressed grapes are composted, then placed beneath rows of vines, since the organic matter is better at retaining moisture than soil.
Ms. Jackson’s husband, Shaun Kajiwara, is a vineyard manager for the company, overseeing the grapes that go into many of the upscale labels.
. . .
Ultimately, Mr. Kajiwara believes that with the right mix of new rootstocks, cover crops and fortuitous rainfall, some of the Jackson vineyards might not need irrigation at all. “In a few years, I think we could be dry-farmed up here,” he said. “Our reservoir will just be insurance.”
It is a snapshot of the future for the Jackson family: a vineyard north of traditional wine country, where natural features might offset some of the deleterious effects wrought by climate change. And, in combination with the adaptations Ms. Jackson has put in place, it might just be enough to allow the company to keep making fine wines for many years to come.

For the full story, see:
DAVID GELLES. “A Winery Battles Warming.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JAN. 8, 2017): 1 & 6-7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2017, and has the title “Falcons, Drones, Data: A Winery Battles Climate Change.”)

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