Wine examined by Doctor Drone

Ag & Food |  2 min. read

How old is wine?

Not the stuff in that bottle you put in the closet one Thanksgiving and forgot about for years.  We’re talking about the history of wine itself.

That, it turns out, goes back a LONG way.  There is evidence that someone poured a cup of wine in 7000 BC, in China.  A thousand years later, there’s evidence that someone else popped a cork (metaphorically speaking) in Europe (Georgia).  And we have archaeological records of the actual making of wine, as far back as 4000 BC, in Armenia.

Over all those years, there have been some wrong turns in winemaking:  those early wines-in-a-box.  Thunderbird.  Retsina.  Every wine drinker has their own list.  But there have been changes for the better as well, and the latest one is – the drone.

Or down on the farm, you might call it Doctor Drone.  Flying over vineyards with a thermal imaging camera, as well as conventional cameras – drones can check on the health of the vines – covering an entire vineyard in far less time than it takes to go through on the ground. From the air, it is simple to spot temperature differences that signal which vines need more water, or which vines are being attacked by bugs.

And for our California readers, in particular (or anyone who likes a nice California Pinot or Chardonnay), drones can spot another potential problem with grapes – something that you wouldn’t see even if you were standing right next to a grape vine:  damage from smoke.

Wildfires in California can, and have, damaged grapes even when the fire never touched the plants.  Smoke can give the wine-to-be a…well, smoky taste.  You can’t “see” smoke damage by looking – so the old way, involved lab testing of a sample of the grapes.  Even that wasn’t precise though, since you couldn’t be sure which grapes to test.  And that, could make for an unhappy surprise later (in the barrel, not the bottle, but still…).

Doctor Drone to the rescue, again.  Those thermal imaging cameras can (because the smoke changes the temperature of the plants, even after the fire – and that change in temperature stands out on camera).  So it’s possible to tell pretty precisely which grapes are damaged, and which will make an excellent Cabernet or Riesling.

All of which means, wine lovers in California, and everywhere else, have good reason to raise a glass of Zinfandel, of Sauvignon Blanc, of sparkling wine, of whatever you like best – and toast Doctor Drone.

In theory, you could build a drone from almost anything that will hold together:  wood, steel, cement (ok, don’t try cement.  You’d never be able to get it off the ground.). But as a practical matter, making a drone sturdy, lightweight and affordable means using materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass, plastic (print your own drone!), even Kevlar. And, if you’re a regular reader here, you already know those are all materials produced from petrochemicals.