Vines aren't easy to plant. Prime positions are often on sloping rocky turf and the orientation of rows must bear sensitive relation to the position of the sun and direction of the wind.
They are planted in long parallel lines in order to create a microclimate and a winemaker must ensure each of his grape varieties share the same environmental conditions so as to distinguish their terroir. And, the lines must be perfectly straight to be workable with viticulture machinery for treating, inspecting and harvesting the vines.
Large vineyards replace 3 to 5 per cent of their plants each year. It is a time consuming and labour intensive process.
In the past this has been done by hand or by using a laser guided device to direct a planting machine. These laser-guided systems still require a lot of work. Comprehensive dimensions of the field are needed and the planting of each line must always start from same end of the field. Having reached the top of the field, the tractor must return to the bottom to start planting the next line.
This need not be the case anymore, according to German company, Wagner Pflanzen Technik GmbH , which has developed a GPS satellite-guided planting machine that can save, it claims, up to 50 per cent of the time it takes to plant vines.
The new system, needs only two measurements to map out a field. A screen directs the tractor driver, ensuring he stays on roughly route whilst one, or two, operators feed the young vines into the machine. The machine can position itself independently of the tractor and automatically identifies the correct location for the vine, digs a whole and plants it. It can start from either end of the field, which is what saves winemaker the most time.
Whilst satellite-positioning systems have been used to plant vines before, this is the first to be integrated with the planting machine rather than the tractor. Accuracy is greater than ever before and the system better suits the difficult terrain associated with Europe's best terroirs.
The satellite controlled planting machine is priced from €97,000 and has been successfully trialled in 20 German vineyards. Zürl Bertholt, one of the machines developers said that it has received "a lot of interest" and that he expects to secure contracts this year in France, Spain and Italy. "We're not far away," he said.