Australian viticulture science on global stage

Australia’s increasingly important viticulture research in irrigation efficiency, climate change and sustainability earned global attention last month, when it formed part of the agenda at the 19th International Symposium GiESCO in France.

Wine Australia R&D Program Manager Adrian Loschiavo and South Australian Research & Development Institute ‎Principal Crop Ecophysiologist Dr Victor Sadras attended the conference, held in Gruissan, southern France from June 1-5, with some travel expenses supported by a Wine Australia travel grant.

GiESCO (Group of international Experts of vitivinicultural Systems for CoOperation) is a biannual conference focused on viticulture including latest research, improved vineyard practices and observed international trends.

This year’s key focus was sustainable developments in viticulture and included more than 200 presentations (oral and posters) from 250 scientists and engineers from approximately 20 countries. Research-related topics included climate impacts on viticulture, trellis and canopy management, grape quality, new technology, rootstocks and vineyard management.

Mr Loschiavo said results from a number of Australian projects were presented and discussed at the conference, with Dr Sadras presenting a paper titled Wine as Genotype x Environment x Management: Effect of temp on vine fruit and wine.

‘I think Australian viticulture research, particularly in the fields of irrigation efficiency, drought tolerance and climate change, is punching above its weight. For the size of our sector we have research that is leading other much larger wine producing countries’, Mr Loschiavo said.

‘It’s also an opportunity for our scientists to meet and share ideas with others in their field, build relationships and hopefully research collaborations which could lead to new research outcomes for the Australian grape and wine community’.

Adrian Loschiavo’s top three GiESCO picks

Sap flow sensors that save at least 40 per cent of irrigation

In the US, researchers in California were able to significantly reduce irrigation without negatively impacting yield or ripening rates. Real-time sap flow was monitored using sensors which measured heat displacement by the vine, enabling calculation of sap flow. Using this information, irrigation was applied based on vine needs and the response to irrigation, rather than just weather forecasts or canopy assessment as would occur in ‘traditional’ management. Experiments were undertaken in commercial vineyards located in Napa, Healdsburg and Paso Robles comparing both irrigation scheduling methods, and water savings ranged between 40-100 per cent when using the sensors. For more information, visit www.fruitionsciences.com.

Phone apps and robots

European scientists have developed an app that enables growers to quickly ascertain the flower numbers of an inflorescence using their Android smartphone. Called vitisFlower, the app recognises unopened flowers and counts them, providing information that can assist in early season yield estimations. The research team has also been working on an unmanned ground vehicle, VineRobot, which utilises a combination of machine vision, fluorescence-based sensors and NIR spectroscopy, to collect data on vegetative growth, vine water status, potential yield and grape composition. Collated data is processed into a vineyard map and sent to a computer or device to assist with vineyard management decisions. For more information, visit www.vinerobot.eu.

Is variable rate irrigation a reality?

In the US, California’s E&J Gallo are trialling an in-block irrigation system which allows tailored delivery of irrigation in 15x15m quadrants. Variable rate irrigation uses two irrigation lines in each row, a series of solenoids, control boxes and many metres of wire to apply irrigation to quadrants of 40-50 vines (10 vines x 4-5 rows) within the block. Yield maps and canopy imagery captured during the season are used to schedule irrigation for each quadrant. This has greatly reduced variability within the block and improved water use efficiency. At present, it’s not commercially viable, but it demonstrates the benefit of this concept. For more information, please visit: www.vineyardteam.org/virtual-tailgates/vine-water/Sanchez/.

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