Wine-making technology improves with age

New computerized equipment automates the process to produce precise, calculated results.

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Wine-making technology from the field to fermentation is making advances in two universities, according to recent reports from westernfarmpress.com.

The University of California, Davis, is operating what is reported to be the world’s first wireless fermentation system, funded by a $3.5 million donation to the university by T.J. Rodgers, a winery owner and founder, president and CEO of San Jose-based Cypress Semiconductor Corp.

Now in its third generation of refinement, the initial assembly of custom-designed stainless steel fermentors was installed for the winery’s first crush in 2010. Since then, experts have continued to fine-tune the system, according to the report, written by Pat Bailey, UC Davis public relations representative

“This radically new fermentation system is unlike anything available at the moment to commercial or research wineries,” said Roger Boulton, the Stephen Sinclair Scott Endowed Chair in Enology at UC Davis. “It equips us, for the first time, to perform reproducible fermentations with precise temperature control and uniform mixing, which is critically important for consistently producing quality wines.”

The 200-liter fermentors are individually equipped with automated temperature control, an automated system for pumping juice over grape skins when making red wines, and a sensor that monitors fermentation progress in degrees Brix — a measurement of sugar content.

Data from each fermentor is transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer control room at a programmable ratio of up to once per minute and automatically graphed on a large monitor in the control room.

Researchers can now undertake experiments involving many different vineyard sites to better understand how climate, soil, grape clone and viticultural practice interact to influence wine composition.

“The fermentors will play a central and vital role in helping us understand, in a way never before possible, how all viticulture research on grape cultivars, climate and vineyard sites and practices is critically linked to research on wine flavor and chemistry,” Boulton said.

Rodgers, an electrical engineer with a doctorate from Stanford, fell in love with Burgundy wine when he was a graduate student. He and his wife operate the Clos de la Tech winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing in pinot noir.

Experimental technology also is being applied to the vineyard in an attempt to reduce manual labor costs and offset concerns about declining numbers of seasonal workers.

A $6 million grant awarded to Purdue University last fall is being used to develop a robotic pruning system that would offer the same level of quality as hand labor, westernfarmpress.com reported in an article by Diane Brown of Michigan State University Extension.

Vision Robotics of San Diego, a partner in the project, has already developed a prototype pruner that incorporates stereo vision technology. Two cameras set close together to view the canopy take pictures every three-quarters of an inch and allow the entire cordon to be modeled in 3D before any pruning takes place, according to the release.

A computer translates the images into a set of actions based on pruning rules written into the software. Robotic arms make cuts that are guided by lasers.

The current prototype operates over-the-row and is towed by a small, self-steering tractor that only requires a human operator to move the pruner between rows. Improvements in cut accuracy and speed of operations are currently under development.

The goal of the project is to advance the prototype into a cost-effective system that will be commercially available. According to Michigan State University Extension, pruning is one of the most expensive operations in a vineyard, accounting for about 20 percent of labor costs.

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