Thanks to the development of mechanization, wine production today makes use of cutting-edge technologies able to offer equipment and machinery to manage the company more efficiently, optimizing times, reducing costs and ensuring a constant level of product quality.
The modern management of the vineyard allows manual operations to be reduced to a minimum, including those that, from an agronomic point of view and according to tradition, cannot be separated from human intervention. This consideration in any case requires in-depth reflection, considering the exceptions of the case. Some large wineries today apply integral mechanization in field operations and with the appropriate exceptions for orographic reasons or for the size of the winery, we can observe that the results obtained confirm the goodness of the technical solutions adopted. We therefore note that mechanization is changing the face of viticulture (Italian and not only) thanks to or because of the continuous imbalance between the cost of labor and the price of grapes. At least in this respect, no one can deny that mechanizing the operations in the vineyard, in the medium-long term, benefits the pockets of entrepreneurs.
By the term "mechanization" we mean the operations carried out seasonally with the help of a specific machine, system and / or technological support capable of increasing its effectiveness, precision and reducing time. Already starting from the planning of the vineyard, thanks to tools for data collection, computers and specific software, it is possible to create the map of the finished vineyard. The rest of the work is carried out at the table, determining the exact number of poles, grafted vines and accessories needed as well as the total cost and the time required for carrying out the works, including any land works such as drainage, slope arrangement, etc.
The next phase of choosing the cultivars and related clones for planting the new vineyard involves the knowledge of various factors including the soil, fertility, climate and more; the choice of grafted plants must therefore be considered and thanks to the numerous varieties and clones made available by nursery companies, it is possible to find solutions to the most varied production and territory needs.
At this point how to orient yourself in the choice of poles, wires and accessories for the vineyard system? Also in this case the offer is very wide and it is easy to find solutions for any form of farming, for plants that can be partially or fully mechanized and for other specific needs.
Soil work - digging, milling, harrowing, inter-row and inter-row under-row work - are faced with increasingly efficient equipment; the same applies to the management of grassing, which can be total, in alternate rows, spontaneous or controlled and can take advantage of specific equipment such as mulchers, mowers as well as numerous accessories. It should be noted that today equipment is available that can perform multiple functions at the same time (combined construction sites) and can be installed on tractors in different positions (front, rear, side or ventral), demonstrating how research and innovation pushes towards a decrease of intervention times and consequently costs.
In terms of phytosanitary defense of the vineyard, we note how the "natural" defense (organic or biodynamic) is gaining more and more approval, both for an increased awareness of human and animal health, and for the offers of companies in the sector that develop specific and more oriented towards "eco-sustainability". Nevertheless, the phytosanitary defense with chemical products maintains a leadership position in the use by wine companies.
The development of new active ingredients and consequently of products have led to progress in terms of reducing the doses used and the ecological risk in some cases.
At the same time, the equipment intended for their distribution - sprayers, atomisers and nebulisers - have also been improved to ensure the distribution of small quantities (low volume), to contain dispersion into the environment thanks to solution recovery systems, preventing the so-called "drift effect. "and improved the effectiveness of the products themselves, adhering better to the treated plant systems.
The same can be said for the fertilization of the vineyard as an operation strictly linked to production: today “interpreting” the nutritional needs of the vineyard is no longer sufficient, just as it is not enough to rely exclusively on tradition to choose when and how to distribute the fertilizer. This attitude does not fall within the canons of agronomically and economically correct management. It is of utmost importance to know the amount of soil (even for individual portions of the vineyard) and to make an analytical assessment to obtain the nutritional photograph useful for calculating the necessary contributions based on the annual removals.
In addition to the traditional “foot fertilization”, in some cases foliar fertilization is used, exploiting the period of phytosanitary treatments to convey the nutritional products at the same time.
The distribution of mineral fertilizer can exploit fertilizer spreaders managed by computers and GPS systems that lead back to the set of technological solutions known as "precision farming" or precision agriculture.
Precision viticulture is a set of technologies (tractor, equipment and computer) that allow the operator to intervene in a differentiated and targeted way in the management processes of the vineyard itself, with the aim of creating personalized management even for each individual plant. . The interaction between the various systems (satellite, software and operating machine) installed on the tractor, allows you to set the work of the machine according to the needs of the vineyard itself.
Irrigation (where permitted by the production specification) is also one of the processes that exploiting technology, allows you to monitor the water status and water requirements of the vineyard with special control units and agro-phenological sensors, providing for the irrigation intervention or programming it in automatic mode.
Certainly the subject of comparison is pruning (dry or winter pruning), an activity that is still partly considered off-limits to mechanization as it is believed to have a negative impact on the quality of the grapes, as well as on the longevity of the vineyard. In any case and depending on the type of farming chosen, today it is possible to have equipment which, mounted laterally or in front of the tractor, carries out the operation on a single backrest, or by crossing the row they can operate on both sides of the row itself.
It is common practice to carry out winter pruning with a mechanical pre-pruning operation followed by a manual finishing operation with traditional, pneumatic or electric scissors in a single site where the operators use a special platform pulled by the tractor that performs the primary operation.
Another important and delicate operation is summer pruning; closely related to production, today it is carried out more and more frequently with mechanical trimmers with various methods of execution of the cut according to the type of apparatus (blades, knives, etc ..). Another delicate and crucial operation for the complete ripening of the grapes is the leaf removal, and thanks to defoliator machines (some with computerized management) it allows the removal of the leaves in a fast, safe and effective way. The various models on the market exploit different elimination principles, from aspiration and cutting, to aspiration and tearing by means of rollers, to flexible rotating or thermal drums that "scald" the leaf causing coagulation of proteins and drying and fall within a few days.
In vineyards where the position and conformation allow access to mechanical means, it is also possible to tie the shoots with vine-tying machines (for Guyot-type training systems) or manually using electric tying machines equipped with a battery that make it much easier and quick execution of the operation.
The wide range of operating machines that can be used in viticulture can be applied to the tractor at different points (front, rear or ventral), using the power take-off, the lift and the hydraulic circuits found on modern specialized ones. Another novelty is represented by the straddle multifunction machines - tractors in all respects - able to “carry” more equipment to carry out processing and treatments on several rows at the same time.
Tractors: being indispensable vehicles, they are at the center of attention and subject to constant updates from a technological point of view. The manufacturers are currently aiming to offer versatile products (for multiple uses regardless of the power required) to reduce fuel consumption, as well as reduce pollution. Particular attention is paid to driving comfort and of course to the performance of the vehicle, to allow the operator to carry out his activity efficiently and safely. Many products are equipped with tractor-machine "communication" tools (such as the ISOBUS system as established in the ISO 11783 standard) in order to automate information regarding field operations.
The final act of the wine year has as its climax a very limited and decisive period of time for the beginning of the wine production cycle, the grape harvest. Harvesting machines are increasingly sophisticated and updated with multi-parametric control systems capable of selecting the product to be harvested on the basis of predetermined functions (color, ripening, etc.). This option allows you to choose based on the quality of the product and to collect it separately, destining it to different processing lines once delivered to the cellar.
Innovation is therefore a "change" that is progress and optimization and thus in viticulture (as in other activities) it involves all the production and transformation processes, offering the possibility of making the best use of available resources (time, raw materials and capital) with the aim of maintaining the competitiveness of companies on the market at high levels.