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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

It must be my fascination with wine. When I see news of a scientific breakthrough or a new application for old technology, my mind goes into “I wonder if there’s a wine angle to this?” mode.

On several occasions the insights I’ve gained over my wine-centric lifetime have come up with ancillary or alternative ways to utilize applications from other industries to the agriculture-based wine industry. However, most of the time my mind dismisses out of hand any potential alternative uses.

The mantra of 21st century businesses continues to be how to utilize digital technology to improve business efficiency. We’ve seen the advancement of robotics as well as software programs that create new industrial devices or digitally automate mechanical functions. All slowly, but seeming to inevitably replace man. From assembly line robots to 3D printing to managing our home environments, technology is transforming our lives.

I came across one such news article in 2011 that piqued my curiosity, but never manifested itself in any useful or relevant application to the wine industry. Then lo and behold, a few weeks ago I read of a new engineered product on the market that gave me pause. “Aha! There was a wine angle lurking behind that 2011 news report after all.”

We’re all aware of the expansion of new applications for drone technology. Back in 2011 I read of Navy pilots directing military air attacks around the world, into combat areas or into the lairs of wanted terrorists, all the while sitting in their homes at their sophisticated computer terminals. Soon we may be reading of the same Navy pilot conducting attacks on his smartphone over a Starbucks Wi-Fi connection while standing in line for his morning Macchiato.

There must be a wine-centric application here somewhere I thought to myself. While I was unable to concoct a drone-derived resource for the wine industry, entrepreneurs in other industries have been creative and innovative. Amazon is developing a 30 minute order delivery drone system. Domino Pizza can dispatch a drone to deliver pizza to your doorstep. A western beer company drone delivers six packs to ice fishing cabins on frozen remote Minnesota lakes.

My favorite: A drone has been deployed to transport valuable liquid cargo to après-skiers atop a snow-covered mountaintop in the Alps. A bottle of Champagne is delivered to customers sitting at an exclusive, isolated wine bar at the summit of a Swiss mountain.

But not much has been developed for the wine industry.

Until I read the news a few weeks ago.

A winery owner in Bordeaux has ordered an Octocopter drone (at a cost of nearly $70,000) to conduct flyovers through his vineyards. Small in stature at two feet wide and less than three pounds, the drone has a range of eight miles and can climb to over one mile high.

Here’s what I missed: the Octocopter can inspect over 25 acres in one hour with its micro/macro camera lenses and infrared technology. A typical vineyard eight-worker team covers only 10 acres over a similar timeframe. Aside from this obvious increase in productivity, other efficiencies include pin-point spraying of sections of vineyards rather than a scattershot approach and measuring the ripeness of micro sites to facilitate the best time to harvest individual plots of grapevines.

Other sightings have been reported in California and Oregon. The news article quoted University of California-Davis professor Roger Boulton: “There are only a couple of things that consistently improve wine quality year after year. The first is precision viticultural practices.” This is the potential bottom line impact of agri-drones.

As drones begin to proliferate in vineyards, the consumer will be the ultimate winner in improved wine quality, consistency and price stabilization due to greater and healthier yields. Now I get it.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35 year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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