With projects of applied technologies in vineyards in places as diverse as Portugal, Israel and California, Thibaut Scholasch, PhD in viticulture and enology, has seen how viticulture has adapted to the new tools of precision agriculture.
To put on the table the challenges the industry currently faces and to bring together its main actors, Scholasch created the Vintage Report conference, which this year will be for the first time in South America, with Chile as the venue for the event.
Sebastián Vargas, Viticulture & Enology Research Scientist at Viña Concha y Toro´s Center for Research and Innovation (CRI), will participate as a speaker presenting his experience of success in the project “Evaluation of controlled water stress on the productivity of the vineyard and the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine.”
Looking forward to the Vintage Report, which will be held on November 8, Thibaut Scholasch comments on the adoption of technologies in the vineyard, the industry´s main challenges and his expectations for the event in Chile.
How do you see the development of Precision Agriculture? Do you think it is the future of the wine industry?
It is very disruptive, because what we see is a tendency in which, instead of making decisions based on the “wet finger”, there is more data being used. This supports and changes the criteria that drive key decisions.
I see this trend in Israel, Portugal, California and France. However, we are just entering this period. It has been delayed because of this sector´s tradition, but there is an adoption that is increasing and I see it as something inexorable. That is not going to replace the old ways of the winemaking business, but it will deliver more certainties. The main reason is that it gives much more security in financial profitability.
How do you see the average of the global industry in this area? How is Chile in relation to the rest of the industry?
The truth is that, from what I know, I can highlight Sebastián Vargas and the work he is doing at the Center for Research and Innovation. Few people have their technical level. What you are doing in Concha y Toro is top. Nevertheless, that is the vision I have of precision agriculture in Chile, which does not necessarily represent the rest of the industry. For example, in France they are far behind, compared to what Sebastián is doing. California is at very different levels, with a great diversity in its stages of implementation.
Do you think that this type of innovation has faced resistance because of the traditional nature of viticulture?
Absolutely. Unlike the automotive or communication industries, people are not involved in this process of adopting innovations. People have two obstacles to adopt precision viticulture. First, because they come from a heritage of tradition: “My dad did it that way, my grandfather did it that way. Why change things?”
The second reason is that there is only one goal in the year: that the harvest goes well. Once the harvest passes, people forget. Thus, the rate of implementation of new technologies is much slower due to the very nature of the industry.
In your experience, what do you think is the main challenge the wine industry faces currently?
Honestly, climate change. The rise in temperatures is ruining everything. I see that in all the countries where I work and it is generating disorders in phenology, in chemical composition and in the organization of operations.
My vision is that we are also going to have to adopt more precision viticulture because we have no idea how the vine will respond to that new climate context. We have to move forward to understand the vine´s physiological response and what the trend will be in this new climate context.
About the Vintage Report, why was it created? What objectives does it pursue?
At the beginning, we created this concept because we realized that there was a great disconnection between scientific and technical knowledge, and what was implemented in the vineyard. There was a need to establish a bridge to optimize the management of environmental resources and to improve the performance of production tools through data.
In this sense, the market was also going to be interested in how to become a stronger competitor. We are already in an economy that has reached a global level, leaving behind the model where Europe was leading and the rest was in the background.
How has the experience been during these years and what do you expect for the congress in Chile?
I do not know how it will work in Chile, but I am very excited. The response in the northern hemisphere has been great, so I hope it stays that way.
Through the Vintage Report, I would like to contribute to the dissemination of reliable information and to do it in a way that the concept continues to grow. We want to connect with people who work well, in addition to developing special links with scientists in each country, respecting their work.
The idea is to contribute to having a broader vision and to take advantage of the networks to generate connections. I think it is necessary to assess the opportunity of access to the information that we are creating and that I believe will continue to grow in terms of value. That is my goal, to contribute to that movement.
I see that trend in the world, that there is a need for research. Through either a private impulse, public or academic, but it is necessary.