Winemakers in California and beyond face increasing labor costs and severe labor shortages, making it difficult to manage and harvest a vineyard while maintaining profitability. . Growers are increasingly turning to machines for pruning, canopy management, and harvesting, but the quality of how these practices are performed can dramatically affect yield and quality. A new see again by researchers at the University of California at Davis, published in the journal Catalyst, provides guidelines for growers to get the most out of machines.
“Wine workers have been virtually non-existent. People don’t want to work in the vineyards anymore because it’s remote and difficult work, ”said Kaan Kurtural, professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis and UC cooperative extension specialist. “There are now machines available to do everything without touching a vineyard. “
Kurtural designed an experimental “contactless” vineyard at UC Davis’ Oakville station to help growers understand how machines can help them cope with labor shortages. While machines reduce the need for seasonal manual labor, they do not eliminate it. The degree of labor reduction depends on the growing region, the type of vineyard and the number of practices that growers mechanize.
The review provides tips on using machines for winter pruning, canopy management, and harvesting, as well as how to design a grape vineyard for machines before planting. Videos showing the operation of different types of machines and practices can also be found in the review.
Economic savings, quality grapes
About 90% of crushed wine grapes in the United States are harvested mechanically. Previous studies have found a saving of around 50% in labor costs by using machines to harvest instead of manual harvesting.
“Using more mechanization in a vineyard beyond just harvesting can also reduce labor costs without affecting the quality of the grape.” Kurtural said.
Mechanical pruning, for example, can save between 60% and 80% in labor costs per acre compared to manual pruning alone. An experiment in the San Joaquin Valley, where more than 50% of California’s wine grapes are grown, also showed that using mechanical canopy management machines to manage merlot grapes was twice as successful. more color. The higher the color or the higher the anthocyanin concentrations, the better the quality. It can dramatically improve the yields of wineries in the heart of California.
Kurtural said there are machines to manage canopies, including machines for leaf removal, shoot thinning and trunk suckering. Kurtural noted that the machines are American-made, developed by researchers at the University of Arkansas, and marketed by manufacturers in Fresno and Woodland, California.
The review was co-authored by Matthew Fidelibus, UC Viticulture Cooperative Extension Specialist at UC Davis, based at UC Kearney’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Financial support for the research came from the American Vineyard Foundation and the Bronco Wine Company.