Bordeaux estate Château Phélan Ségur is in the process of revolutionising its vineyard management with the introduction of GPS and infra-red technology.
Phélan Ségur MD Veronique Dausse shows varying vigour levels across the estate’s vineyards
Following three years of trials, 2012 saw the St Estèphe property implement this approach across its 70 hectares of vineyard by attaching measuring devices to tractors.
The subsequent data analysis of factors including leaf density and chlorophyll is based on the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which allows the property to build a map (pictured left) of vigour levels in different sections of the vineyard.
Outlining the process to the drinks business, Phélan Ségur’s managing director Veronique Dausse explained: “Every time a tractor goes into the vineyards it gives us a picture,” as she revealed that the quality of data collected in this way allows the property to manage individual vineyard plots as small as 10m2.
“It gives us very good precision and helps us to make very quick decisions about the level of treatment so, for example, we can adapt our level of deleafing to the characteristics of the area,” she continued.
With this improved understanding of its raw materials, the Phélan Ségur team is also able to make more informed decisions after the harvest when it comes to blending across different sections of vineyard.
“We’re now blending parts of plots with the same vigour,” outlined Dausse, revealing that the company has invested in new 100-hectolitre tanks in order to manage these smaller parcels.
Despite promising indications so far, Dausse admitted it was likely to be 10 years before the results of this approach can be seen clearly, adding that the property had seen further quality improvements in any case thanks to the introduction in 2011 of a new destemmer and crusher.
“We don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or not yet, but we’re checking it against things we already know well – the sarment [vine shoots] and the analysis of soils”, she told db.
Using all this information, the estate eventually hopes to manage its vineyards so that the vigour levels are similar throughout.
Although the team is yet to establish a firm link between its measurements and different rootstocks, Dausse observed: “I’m sure it’s linked”, adding; “If the problem is the rootstock, it’s a big problem. We try to make decisions without replanting.”
While this NDVI technology is already being used by winemakers on a small scale, Dausse claimed: “I’m sure we are the only one of our size using it at the moment,” marking a distinction in the greater level of detail it offers compared to satellite imagery.