GIS Technology Changes the Wine Industry

If you’ve decided to pursue a GIS degree, then you will open a lot of career doors for yourself. Geographic information systems technology is one of the most widely used technologies across the globe. And while the role GIS plays in some industries is obvious, there are many non-technological businesses and non-profits that rely heavily on it, too. One arena that has been drastically improved by GIS is the wine industry.

Until the advent of geographic information systems, vineyard owners selected plots of land by thumbing through soils and calculating historical climate data. Based on their findings, they often made educational guesses about where to plant their grapevines.

With the help of GIS, vineyard owners now know exactly where to plant them.

In his essay for the spatial design publication V1 Magazine, author Daniel Schellenberg details how spatial data is changing the wine industry.

In the April 2010 article, Schellenberg states: “In a world of fierce competition in the global wine industry, unique characteristics of the region are valuable assets for marketing. Many wine marketers rely on anecdotal evidence to communicate the unique nature of a wine. But, GIS technology and the development of maps is one way to aggregate spatial data at multiple scales, deliver relevant content to the target consumer, and create trust in the marketplace.”

In addition to analyzing spatial data, vineyard operators can survey a region’s productivity. The New Zealand Winegrowers, a national wine association with funding from the government and wineries, used GIS technology to create a geo-referenced database of all vineyards in the country. The system created various maps linked to production data summaries.

In a time, where wine bloggers as well as Wine Spectator and Food & Wine magazines publish harvest yields, soil types and climatic data, there’s great demand for wine regions to have scientific data derived from GIS technology, much of which can even be found on the back of wine bottles. Furthermore, by having production data summaries and a better understanding of what areas have the best soils, winemakers have a better understanding of where grapevines will grow best.

Because no two grapes grow the same, it’s especially important to plant the grapes in the optimal soil and climate. For example, the popular grape cabernet sauvignon ripens much slower than other red grapes, especially in areas with little sunshine. In contrast, pinot noir, another popular red grape, thrives in cooler climates, like New Zealand, and can ripen early.

In many parts of the world, the climate stays relatively neutral. Not every place is like California, where the sunshine is perfect for cabernet sauvignon, or Burgundy, France, where the medium climate helps the pinot noir grape flourish. But, GIS technology can help winemakers find the optimal climate in their vineyards in  microclimates that can be hotter or cooler than vineyards just a couple miles away. Just two degrees can be the difference between an award-winning wine the world loves and throw-away wine you sip and forget.

After the vine rootstocks have been planted, GIS can also help vineyards make better wine. By keeping close tabs on the vineyard’s growth, they are able to harvest grapes at the optimum ripening point, which gives the wine the desired flavors.

The prestigious Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates in Washington uses the combination of the Wacom DTZ-2100 interactive pen display with Esri software to display precision canopy density in the vineyard. The aerial imagery is converted to the NDVI format (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), which displays the photosynthetic output of plants, based on their spectral bands in aerial imagery. The DTZ-2100 pen’s accuracy makes it possible to pinpoint specific plants easily, so their fruit can be picked separately to take advantage of certain flavor characteristics.

“We’ve found a correlation between the size of the canopies and the grape flavors,” said Jennifer Smithyman of Ste. Michelle in a case study. “Many of our winemakers have preferences, such as grapes with more vegetal characteristics and others prefer more fruit flavors. Because the Wacom display allows our georeferencing to be so accurate, we can divide the vineyard into different zones for separate picking to give the winemakers what they want.”

Job opportunities

A vineyard worker or winemaker often has three to 20 actual jobs, one of which may be executing GIS tasks, which would require a GIS Degree. For example, this research and development position for the Rivernina Wine Grapes Marketing Board in Australia calls for a successful candidate to “assist in the maintenance of a regional GIS database.”

Learn more about American Sentinel’s accredited associate and bachelor’s online degrees in GIS so you can position yourself for success in this growing field.

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