Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Saturday, 31 October 2009

English wine gets help from space

Oenoview view and aerial photo
The system can help to optimise harvests, and hopefully wine quality

A number of English vineyards have signed up to make use of a satellite imaging service to boost harvests.

The satellite measures a vineyard's reflectivity in a number of colours in the visible and infrared.

The Oenoview system, first launched in France last year, analyses the images to determine vine leaf density, soil water content and grape bunch sizes.

The English Wine Producers trade group said that wines made using the system could be available as early as 2011.

Oenoview was developed by the Institut Cooperatif du Vin in France along with Infoterra, a subsidiary of aerospace firm EADS Astrium.

The system relies on the fact that reflectivity at different wavelengths can give information both about the vines' foliage and the soil in which they are growing.

Oenoview screenshot
The system can be used to assess a range of surface characteristics

The quantity of foliage is linked to the quality of the grapes because it is an indirect measure of the amounts of sugars and tannins contained in them.

There is an ideal time to harvest each bunch, but not all bunches are ready at the same time.

The satellite data cuts the vineyards into two-metre-square "pixels", corresponding to about four vines each, and the software assigns each pixel a colour-coded "leaf area index".

"If there is an even distribution of blue or red images in a field, the leaf area index suggests that the grapes can be harvested altogether," said Oenoview programme manager Henri Douche.

"But if the map shows defined red and blue areas, it helps the owner to care for and harvest sections of the fields to produce top quality wine."

Julia Trustram Eve from English Wine Producers said: "Innovation is at the heart of the English wine industry and vineyard owners are keen to use technology that complements their wine-making skills.

"Developing a pilot programme to use space technology is a smart and exciting next step."

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