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2014 Vintage Report Innovation Award

by Curtis Phillips
January 20, 2015

For the last few years, I have been a judge for the Vintage Report Innovation Award presented Bank of the West and Fruition Sciences as part of the Annual Vintage Report. This year’s winner was a vineyard irrigation project by a E&J Gallo Winery and IBM entitled "Effect of a Variable Rate Irrigation Strategy on the Variability of Crop Production in Wine Grapes in California." The lead researcher was Luis Sanchez.

While the original intent of this project may have been to decrease vineyard variability, it had the beneficial side-effect of decreasing water usage. In reflecting on his work, Dr. Sanchez noted that, “The goal was to decrease vineyard variability by increasing yield in the low yielding areas of the vineyard. By dividing the 10-acre experimental section of the vineyard into 140 irrigation zones we were able to irrigate each zone according to its average vigor or vine size (via NDVI) and ended up increasing water use efficiency.”

In my experience, the collection of data never poses as much of a problem as the meaningful interpretation of that data. The the involvement of IBM might suggest, this experiment relied on a fair bit of computing power to turn raw numbers into an actionable irrigation regime. Sanchez stated that the results exceeded expectations, “ We decreased variability after the first season and completely reversed the variability pattern on the second season. And we did this mostly through changes in berry weight. However, we expect a more permanent effect on vine capacity in the long term to be reflected as greater clusters per vine or berries per cluster.”

The intent of the award is to recognize “the most groundbreaking method, practice or sustainable approach used during the 2014 vintage.”

Further guidelines are that:
* Eligible techniques, approaches, methods and practices must be vineyard-based and yield provable results
* Approaches must have been used during the 2014 vintage (though they may have started earlier)
* The techniques - if not implemented in Napa Valley - must be exportable to Napa Valley terroirs
* The award is noncommercial: while experiments may rely on a branded technology, the award recognizes the experiment, not the brand.

The official press release for the 2014 Vintage Report Innovation Award may be found here.

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