On cloud wine - how cloud computing can enhance the wine on our table

Friday, 22 November, 2013
Chris Griffith, The Australian
Computers and fine wine - the two would seem to be chalk and cheese. But when next quaffing your favourite drop consider that it might owe at least some of its mellow tones to new-age cloud data crunching.
Grape growing, a traditional art often passed down through the generations, is being transformed by sensors that monitor the fruit on the vine as well as the soil.

The data is uploaded to powerful computers located elsewhere - so-called cloud computing - where it is crunched into meaningful information, before being returned to the vignerons.

In many cases, the data is providing unprecedented insight into the state of crops.

The CSIRO, along with IBM, the Tasmanian government and the University of Tasmania, has been experimenting with cloud computing to enhance viticulture - the science of winemaking - and five wineries in Tasmania are involved in a pilot project that has been running for two years.

The project, Sense-T, is also being used to monitor the dairy and oyster farm industries as well as water catchments in Tasmania.

One of the wineries is Pooley Wines, in the Coal River Valley. It produces premium riesling and pinot varieties, among others. "We're gathering live data and we are able to tap into that via the web," says Matthew Pooley, a third-generation grower and the director of viticulture at Pooley Wines.

"It (the sensor system) monitors leaf wetness, soil moisture, soil temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and direction, and (ambient) temperature."

Colin Griffith, Director of CSIRO's Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation, says the sensors - which resemble a leaf - are placed throughout the vineyard and broadcast their data wirelessly to nearby "aggregation points" in the field or office.

Data is then transmitted to the cloud, analysed by powerful computers and useful information is then returned to the growers. It's making sense of that information that preoccupies growers.

Pooley says an advisory committee for the technology involving the five growers is developing applications for smartphones to help them make the best use of the data.

"We're looking at what information we really need out of all this information that's being gathered," says Pooley. "I'm working with other grape growers and we've had roundtable discussions. We want (the data) delivered on smartphones so we can look up certain disease (environmental) conditions."

The group is also working with the Wine Tasmania Technical Committee on the project and there is also a $30,000 weather station in the vineyard installed by CSIRO, which uploads data.

But how does all this hi-tech help enhance vintage quality?

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