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Yesterday I had a conversation with a GIS and Soil Scientist who showed me an article where the work he had done was blatantly showcased by a local winemaker as his own, only to find out that I gave the winemaker the idea early in 2015, when showing the person a presentation I made on utilizing GIS in viticulture, without mention of viticulturists or GIS specialists in the latest article.  Worst even is that the content of the article is written purely for marketing purposes, and sadly doesn’t showcase the powerful effect Area Solar Radiation and terrain analysis has in viticulture.

This is nothing new for us as viticulturists and other technical advisors. We are the foot soldiers. We do the work.

The same story happened last year when the projects I have been researching for about 7 years was published, yet again in a poorly informative article, by a wine magazine, only the work was presented by someone who didn’t do it, and if you read the article, you would see no substance or knowledge on the subject of GIS and viticulture.

So, that is that now, nothing can be done about it. What I do wish to accomplish with this article is to give you, mostly reporters or wine writers, just a background or foundation when writing these articles, to showcase GIS in a better, more practical way.

First off, Terrain Analysis and Area Solar Radiation is nothing new. If I’m not mistaken, it was first introduced/used in South African viticulture by Francois Knight, about 12 years ago. Since then lots of companies are using it and most use it to make better decisions when planting vines and subsequently making better wines.

(The work done in New Zealand by Dr Subana Shanmuganathan and her team showcases the true power of GIS in viticulture. Compared to the research done by them, we still have a lot to learn!)

GIS is used extensively by viticulturists like Rosa Kruger, Stephan Joubert, Marco Ventrella and myself, with the main contributor to building these models being Heinrich Schloms, GIS specialist and Soil Scientist. The difference is that we use Area Solar Radiation and our experience with terrain analysis from a wide geographical region to make better decisions on the farms that we work on. (My apologies to those I didn’t mention or know of)

A term like Area Solar Radiation is usually misinterpreted. I read in the latest article that huge amounts of money where spent on “Satellite Solar Radiation Analysis of soils”. This interpretation shows either the person claiming the work or the writer didn’t understand the concept.

I have already explained Area Solar Radiation in a previous article –

So understand this – it is not derived from satellites and has nothing to do with your soil. It is a model build with regards to slope and aspect to put it very simple.

Furthermore, doing a terrain analysis on your own farm doesn’t give you perspective as to what is the trend in your area, the bigger region or even South Africa. For this, you would need a massive database with lots of different varieties in different areas, know the end result (wine) and build Elevation models and Area Solar Radiation models and compare these. Here is a simple example:

Sauvignon blanc Comparison

This image shows different Area Solar Radiation on Sauvignon blanc, ranging from Darling in the West Coast to Durbanville and Philadelphia close to Cape Town. This puts into perspective what the visual differences are in terms of energy received and should be linked to the wines from these sites in order to make conclusions.

This all is just from a remote sensing point of view. Very important to accompany these data sets are a complete soil survey. Pulling this data into a your GIS and overlaying it with your terrain models give you further insight into what is possible and what the correct choices should be.

But all of this is really pointless if you don’t know what your end wine result should be, as varieties reacts differently in different regions. This is why viticulturists in the field are so important. And combine that field experience with a solid GIS system, you might just have a head start…

To finish this longer-than-usual piece I’ve written, I would like to emphasize that I am no expert neither in viticulture nor in GIS. I have a burning passion for both, and I am not alone, there are many like me. It’s time South African Wineries wake up and begin to understand the crucial role viticulturists have to play in their businesses.

Technology is not something to showcase and to try and pioneer, because if you know anything about technology, you would know that the moment you believe you know something, a new technology is already on the horizon.

The power lies in harnessing these different tools and combine that with viticulture knowledge, all to achieve what we all work so hard towards – making the best damn wine we can.

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