Reducing Labor Costs and Increasing Farmworker Safety, Drone Technology Assists in Grape Growing
Monday, July 19, 2021 – At its core, winemaking and grape growing is farming. In an effort to farm more sustainably with less cost and better safety to vineyard workers, Clos de la Tech (CDLT), based in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is developing the use of drones to monitor grapevine phenology, irrigation, and disease control.
CDLT’s interest in autonomous drone spraying to decrease dependence on labor resulted in a forward-looking plan for disease control. Every vineyard needs to maintain the integrity of its vineyards, however CDLT prefers to minimize the use of pesticides, opting to ensure plant health by utilizing organics: oil, sulfur and potassium bicarbonate. In tests at the CDLT vineyards, the drone spray had better coverage than traditional backpack spraying (where vineyard workers walk the rows of vines manually spraying them). In one recent test, a drone was able to spray just over half an acre in 15 minutes on a single set of batteries, using a 3-person crew. Though it might seem drone spraying would be fairly straight forward, CDLT’s team is working on refining the technology to adapt to their vineyards’ extreme slopes, and to perfecting the drone’s spray height above the vines to insure maximum efficiency and optimal coverage.
Using drones at CDLT also helps monitor the irrigation of the vineyards, crop management and pest control. The drones are helping to make the vineyards more efficient as well as safer. The ultimate goal is to have a fully autonomous drone, or fleet of drones, that removes the burden of manually scouting and spraying.
About Clos de la Tech
With caves tunneling deep into a vine-covered ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains and vineyards so steep they have to be farmed by hand or with a unique, specially-designed tractor moved by cables, Clos de la Tech is one of the most ambitious and innovative Pinot Noir producers in California. The winery was established in 1994 and continues to be operated by TJ Rodgers, founder and retired CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, and his wife, Valeta. Some of the highlights at Clos de la Tech include extreme growing conditions, high-altitude terrain, vine-by-vine farming, high-density planting, low yields, innovative equipment, gravity-flow winery, whole cluster fermentations with native yeast, and no filtration.