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Best's Wines

Best's Wines
8 April 2022 | Brand Stories | Best's Wines

Game-changing Vineyard Technology on show at Best’s Great Western

It may be one of Australia’s most historic wine regions, but Great Western in Victoria is also home to a tech revolution emerging in its vineyards. Fifth generation vigneron and Managing Director of Best’s Great Western is leading the charge, pioneering new viticultural and harvesting methods that combine the old world with the new. We take a look at some of this trail-blazing vineyard technology, which was showcased at Wine Australia’s inaugural AgTech and Innovation Day.

Best’s Wines has been one of the driving forces behind innovative vineyard technology that enables a focus on precision viticulture. A growing number of producers in the Great Western region have also adopted these new practices, which are helping them to maximise value from their fruit while boosting its quality, too.

Keen to share their experience and insights with the broader wine community, the team at Best’s recently hosted more than 30 growers at their Sugarloaf Creek Vineyard for Wine Australia’s inaugural AgTech and Innovation Day.

The site, planted mostly to shiraz, was the most significant vineyard acquisition in the history of Best’s in 2018, ensuring supply of premium regional fruit for future generations and furthering their commitment to sustainability.  

The team spent the day demonstrating the new methods they use across their vineyards, including auto-steering for harvesters, variable rate spray technology, chemical-free under-vine options, and technologies for soil health management.

It cements Best’s Wines’ place as one of Australia’s most innovative wineries, while also being one of its oldest and continuously family-owned operations. Sustainability has long been a core focus at the winery, and these new technologies add to the many measures they are implementing to give back to their special sites. By improving the quality of their vines as efficiently as possible, and with a minimal impact, the Best’s team is nurturing them for many years to come.

How auto-steering came about

Ben Thomson was integral in the development of the auto-steer function for grape harvesters; his Stressless Harvesting contracting business partnered with Precision Technology to bring it to life.    

As Ben says, this comes from his tendency to be “a bit of a thinker”. “I ponder how things work, and how I can make them work better, faster or more efficiently,” he says. And that’s exactly what auto-steering now achieves for producers.  

Traditionally, harvesters follow the A-B line – a straight line from one end of a vineyard row to the other – but the new auto-correct system can steer off the pendulum of the picking head, which makes it ideal for use within straight and curved vineyard rows.

GPS receivers attached to the harvester communicate with larger regional GPS systems, mapping the angle of the machine as well as how straight it is driving. If the row goes off the A-B line, the system beeps, the operator takes their hands off the wheel, and the auto-corrector kicks in, pulling the harvester to the left or right as needed.

After trialling the system across vineyards in South Australia and Victoria, Ben says one of its greatest benefits is that it dramatically reduces driver fatigue. “Instead of being able to only glance back quickly, the operator can look back for up to 20 seconds, which gives you a lot of time to notice other things in the vineyard.”

The win-win spray technique

Another game-changer for viticulture – and a first for Australia – is the Smart Apply system for fungicide. It uses a laser scanning method (LiDAR) to calculate the size of the vine canopy and adjusts the rate of spray accordingly.

“For years, we’ve sprayed fungicide at a blanket rate, assuming that if a row has a two-metre canopy at its beginning, for example, it must have a two-metre canopy at the end,” Ben says. “But often, it might be a three-metre canopy at the end, not two, which means your spraying ratio is out of whack.”

LiDAR is a laser scanning method that builds 3D models of real-world environments – in this case, canopies, berries and vineyard infrastructure. These laser scanners can be mounted on vineyard equipment and scan in real time, which provides detail about the size of the canopy and required chemical application to adequately cover the vines.

“It not only saves the environment, but it is also better on the pocket, too,” Ben says.

This technology is an extension of a previous project, which was funded by Wine Australia and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

What’s next for viticulture technology?  

Among the other systems under trial at Best’s Wines is a vineyard vision imaging system that was developed by Tasmanian company BitWise Agronomy.

The BitWise system takes continuous imagery of vines, counting buds as well as the metres of cordon. Images repeatedly captured throughout the growing season allow users to track berry maturity and canopy development by counting shoots and bunch size on each vine, which provides a vine-level spatial map of yield estimation and maturity.

Cameras can easily be mounted on tractors or ATVs to capture imagery during day-to-day operations.

Ben says this system is invaluable because it increases the accuracy of cost estimates by mapping the entire vineyard, helping to pinpoint a site’s strong spots as well as its weak ones. The potential positive impacts on Australian viticulture are incredibly exciting, Ben says.

What vineyard technology advancements mean for wine lovers

These major developments for vineyard technology aren’t just beneficial for the producers who are working with them – wine lovers are reaping the rewards, too. With Best’s using a light touch to work as efficiently as possible and consistently improve on vine health and fruit quality, the resulting wines are, in turn, hitting new heights. And they will continue to do so, too. By pushing to find the most savvy and sustainable vineyard practices, the team is taking their historic sites well into the future and ensuring their wine quality also continues to evolve.

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