July 2011 Issue of Wines & Vines

Smartphones Invade Vineyards

Mobile apps have started to transform viticulture

by Paul Franson
It’s not just teenagers walking around poking at their iPhones; vineyard managers are becoming avid users as well. They are not only accessing the usual email and websites with the phone’s browser but starting to take advantage of dedicated viticulture tools designed for smartphones.

Wines & Vines recently spoke with vineyard managers using smartphones (and other hand-held computer devices) to perform many tasks that once required laptops if not larger computers.

• Collecting and accessing geographic data
• Monitoring weather
• Collecting irrigation data
• Making notes and taking photos to share
• Collecting labor data
• Estimating crop yields

Remote applications are even being used to initiate actions such as starting sprinklers used for frost protection and opening irrigation valves.

This capability has expanded as software programs for vineyards have migrated from standalone products installed on portable computers to Internet-based services.

This move was a natural one. All viticulture managers have cell phones—you can’t find most of them any other way. And as anyone with a smartphone knows, you can access data via the Internet anywhere you have a signal, either using Wi-Fi or the cellular data network. The only problem is that, unless the content is optimized for smartphones, the display is very small. Tablet devices like the iPad represent larger format options.

Many software companies and developers are addressing the issue by creating special pages formatted for smartphone-size displays.

Apps make it easy
To make it even easier and faster, many companies have developed—or, more likely, are developing—“apps” (compact applications) that reside on users’ smartphones to connect immediately and very legibly, just as Wines & Vines has an app for its digital edition that makes it easy to read on mobile devices.

Here’s a quick look at some of the products and how viticulturists are using them.

Premiere Viticulture (premierevit.com) offers a real-time Internet-based service that allows users to efficiently manage and monitor all critical vineyard information from pruning through wine production. The company offers three modules.

PremiereData provides an electronic “filing system.” All it requires is a computer (or a smartphone) and access to the Internet. It tracks elements such as clones, rootstocks, trellis systems, spacing, weather data, petiole and soil samples, fertilizers, nutrient sprays, pressure bomb readings, pesticides, maturity tracking and harvest results.

Premiere Decision helps growers make viticultural and farming decisions based on information the users collect. It includes tools for jobs such as irrigation management and scheduling, pesticide work orders and governmental reporting, fertilizer, cover crop and soil amendment work orders, plus crop forecasting to give you the information you need. When decisions are made, a work order is created and stored electronically.

Premiere Vision provides a series of integrated planning tools. These tools include farm plans and budgets and activity schedules for every single block in a grower’s vineyard.

Premiere Decision’s schedules, reports and work orders can be downloaded to Excel or saved as PDFs and printed or emailed to anyone, anywhere at anytime.

Orange Software markets alternative to smartphone

Another ag-oriented database is offered through Tiger Jill and Pocket Jill Vineyard Management and Compliance programs from Orange Software (orangesoftware.com/tigerjill.com).

It can be used to track chemicals, fertilizers, equipment, employees and other agronomical and monitoring cultivation variables such as irrigation, spray programs, crop estimations, budgeting, degrees Brix, soil nutrition, tissue/leaf analysis as well as costs and county, state and federal reporting and recordkeeping.

Tiger Jill runs on desktop and laptop computers, while Pocket Jill is designed for handheld devices. Both are modular, so you can buy what you need.

Rick Hamman is the viticulture manager for Hogue Ranches and Mercer Estate Winery, which farms 1,300 acres in 300 blocks in Prosser, Wash. He uses Tiger Jill in the office and Pocket Jill on a Hewlett-Packard tablet device. Hamman says he could use the application on a smartphone, but he hasn’t taken that step.

He uses the product mainly to estimate crop yields, saying, “We take a lot of notes.” His staff collects field data, which is synced with other data to give an overall picture of the crop. “The data there tells us whether we need to drop clusters or do no thinning,” he says. “We’re pretty happy with it, and the Tiger Jill tech team is very supportive. They really know their software.”

The product can be used for any crop, but Hamman actually developed the module specifically for grapes.

Another user of Orange products is Shera Fagundes, who manages payroll for the Lagomarsino Group, Visalia, Calif., which farms diversified crops including grapes in the Central Valley. She uses Pet Tiger, a payroll-oriented product from Orange Software, to collect data on hourly and piecework workers in the field.

The company’s supervisors use Motorola phones to log employees in or out, and to record piecework, then records are transmitted to Fagundes each night.
Work orders in the field
Kirk Grace, the vineyard manager at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa, Calif., uses Premier Vit (as it’s nicknamed) to store data about the vineyards he manages. “We track characteristics, rootstocks, clones, acres, etc.”

Grace adds, “We typically write a work order on the computer, then bring it up in the field.” Although Grace generally uses an iPhone, he likes the iPad’s bigger screen and better visibility for many applications.

He also uses the phone or tablet to check weather and access the California soil map at Soilweb from the University of California, Berkeley. He also likes Cellarhand, which has modules for both viticulture and winemaking and even finds the mobile devices useful for accessing the Tee Jet nozzle catalog.

“This technology is very powerful,” he says, adding that some programs are more interesting than they are useful.

Barbour Vineyards of Napa, Calif., adopted Premiere Viticulture software in January and bought a “fleet” of iPads that viticulturist Kelley S. Miller says have been excellent tools in the field. “We also began updating our website more regularly to post updates for our clients.”

Miller says the database consolidated spreadsheets and other information that had been on numerous computers and allowed everyone access. She also uses it to save photos of vines and notes that can be shared with colleagues and clients.

Meristem (meristemtech.com) is another comprehensive program for vineyards. It can also manage and generate reports and display vineyard block maps with an interactive display that includes vineyard features collected using a global positioning system (GPS).

Vineyard managers also use it to maintain vineyard activity status maps, field pest and scouting reports, vine moisture status reports, irrigation history reports, yield estimate reports, fruit maturity/harvest lab reports, harvest yield and status reports and more.

In addition, it can be used for tracking labor, activities, harvest and harvest loading, work orders and pesticide use.

Walsh Vineyard Management of Napa, Calif., has used Meristem software for about three years, says viticulturist Towle Merritt. “We’ve structured our company around Meristem,” he says. “It provides a way to collect information and make it useful. It touches every part of what we do.”

The system collects everything from irrigation data and crop estimates to time cards, then produces reports for internal use and clients. All the information is available in real time or close to it.

The company manages about 3,500 acres. About 60 clients communicate with Walsh using the system; another 30 of Walsh’s staff use the system.

Walsh uses Garmin Juno devices, which combine data collection, cell data and cell phones. “We found them easier to use for heavy data collection than something like an iPhone,” which has a tiny touch screen keyboard, he says. They tried some other devices before choosing the Juno. “We can move the software to better hardware as it becomes available.”

Merritt is a big fan of the system. “I can’t imagine going back,” he says, comparing it to the days before cell phones. “It’s hard to imagine life without it.”

Merritt admits that at first the company was hesitant to provide too much transparency to clients, but opening up has worked well. “An unexpected impact was to raise everyone’s standards. It even raises the need for clients to stay current.”

Of course, some data is restricted; clients can only see their own information, not that of other vineyards.

Monitor water pressure remotely
Paul Goldberg of Bettinelli Vineyard Management, Napa, Calif., uses his smartphone to monitor weather conditions at vineyards he manages from Carneros to Pope Valley, and the company is installing products that let him do something about it.

The big concerns are heat spikes and frost, of course. Goldberg can monitor temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, soil temperature and moisture among other data from Picovale weather stations in the vineyards. These weather stations are solar powered and include their own satellite or cell links, depending on the location.

“I monitor them from home or in the field and can set parameters for the system to call me if the temperature drops or is too high.”

He can also check the water pressure. If pressure drops due to blockage, water running out or pump failure while he’s sprinkling to counteract frost, the system notifies him.

The company was recently installing a system that can open sprinkler valves remotely, too. “It beats having a guy driving around or sleeping in his car up in Pope Valley.”

The technology is also there to turn on wind machines, but the water provides protection to a lower temperature, so it was implemented first.

Goldberg says this allows him to make more informed decisions earlier. “In the past, I often had to turn on the sprinklers earlier than needed to be sure—and because there were so many we couldn’t do them all at once,” he says. “It saves a ton of water and fuel.”

Preference for iPad
Matt Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards in Angwin, Calif., is also owner of Pacific Geodata (pacgeodata.com), a mapping and analysis technology company. Not surprisingly, he’s a big fan of the technology.

Like others who use mapping, he prefers the iPad for these applications. He uses GISroam, a professional iPad-based GIS data-collection and data-use platform to map features of his vineyard to within a few vines.

He also uses a smartphone to check weather. “The key to surviving weather is knowledge and prevention. We use technology to assess everything that can be measured: soil, temperature, wind speed, moisture and then use the data to help automate our reaction to weather that best suits the vineyards.”

In addition, he takes photographs of growth stages of the vine to record bud break at various locations and takes notes using Evernote. One of his new projects is to mark blocks with QR codes for easy identification.

Lamborn is putting together a simple database iPhone app for people who don’t need comprehensive products like those offered by Premiere Viticulture. It will include management data about blocks and harvest data and will be available at simplevit.com.

In addition to smartphone applications aimed at vineyard managers, many are also being developed for cellar applications. Cellarhand combines some viticulture applications with others for the cellar, for example. It includes features such as a vine density calculator, yield estimator and even a biodynamic calculator.

From talking to many suppliers of viticulture software, it’s apparent that other applications are being developed or modified for use in the field on smartphones. Who knows how long it will be before you can monitor your crop by squeezing grape juice into a smartphone accessory to read sugar, acid and pH while mapping vineyard progress?

Print this page   PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION   »
E-mail this article   E-MAIL THIS ARTICLE   »
Currently no comments posted for this article.