Cheers to Wi-Fi - Page 3

By Lisa Phifer

November 15, 2007

Following wine from the vine to the bottle

With a little more digging, I found that Scheid Vineyards uses Wi-Fi in many interesting ways, throughout its entire vineyard and wine-making operation. Scheid farms grapes on 13 Monterey Country vineyard properties, from Soledad to Hames Valley. The company sells fruit and/or wine to over 40 wine labels, including Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery, Don Sebastiani & Sons, David Bruce Winery, Diageo, The Hess Collection Winery, and Constellation Brands.

Mary Lawler, the Director of Marketing at The Hess Collection Winery, lead me to VitWatch, a Web-based vineyard monitoring system developed by Scheid to provide its clients with real-time Web access to vineyard data. In a quote posted on Scheid's Web site, viticulturist Richard Camera said, "From our winery in Napa, VitWatch allows us to take the pulse of specific vineyard blocks where The Hess Collection has contracted high-value wine grapes."

vitwatch.jpgAccording to Tony Stephen, Scheid's Director of Wine and Grape Sales, VitWatch has been in operation for a little over four years. Through the VitWatch Web site (left), winery clients have access to a wide range of monitored vineyard information, including temperature, rainfall, soil moisture, irrigation schedules, and vineyard activities, such as pruning, budbreak, bloom, and fruit set dates.

VitWatch also provides an extensive Vit-Cam system, consisting of 17 remotely-controlled cameras that deliver on-demand live video feeds to Web users. By logging into VitWatch from the comfort of my desk back in Pennsylvania, I toured Scheid's crush pad, fermentation tanks, and fields.

"The cameras inside our winery are wired, but we also have solar-powered cameras out in the vineyards that are wireless, including one that's on a semi-autonomous trailer," said Stephen. The view from that mobile-wireless camera is shown above, after I'd panned and zoomed the camera to catch just a bit of the unit's solar panel.

Scheid also uses Wi-Fi to provide high-speed Internet access to all of its ranches.

"We use several repeater sites to [propagate] signal into areas that would not otherwise have Internet coverage, which has its advantages," said Stephen. "For example, our ranch managers have laptops in their trucks, mounted on pivots. Now they can write orders by typing them into a laptop and send them directly to printers over wireless."

Commercial weather stations located in Scheid's vineyards also now use Wi-Fi uplinks.

"We used to spend thousands per month because those stations would periodically dial-up to send weather data," said Stephen. "When we switched to Wi-Fi, we saved thousands of dollars, and now we have that data in real-time."

Wi-Fi also plays a role in uploading data from scales as grapes are harvested.

"Before, we'd have to weigh the fruit, print the weight out, and tag the grapes. Eventually, that data would be entered into a computer at the office, but that could take days," said Stephen. "Now, if a wireless laptop is hooked up to the scale, the weight goes right to our servers, in real-time, without error."

Back in the lab, Scheid uses sophisticated tools to measure brix, acidity, and PH level.

"Using Wi Fi, that analysis goes right into our database servers, gets published onto VitWatch, and gets e-mailed to our clients immediately," explained Stephen. "They can pick up messages from any device with Internet access to get real-time lab data about the fruit that they're buying from us." [Read more.]

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