Wrath of the Grapes: Robots enter Italian vineyards

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Harvesting grapes proved to be a difficult task in 2020 for Mirko Capelli, who maintains his own vineyard in Tuscany. With the Italian border closed due to the pandemic, the workers he was waiting for from Eastern Europe could not enter the country and the company he had hired to find staff, he raised his hands, unable to untie Capelli’s heavy bond. So this year the Italian winemaker got it (heavy but necessary) decision: instead of labor, spend 85,000 euros for a harvester of grapes. Basically, one robot.

Many followed the example of Capelli winemakers, with the automation to be touted as the only economically viable solution to the pandemic. Italy’s vineyards rely heavily on labor from Eastern Europe and North Africa, but for 18 months this treaty has been abolished and the robot workers came to “save the day”.

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Although in some crops, such as peaches in the US, robots have been giving a strong “present” for a few years now, in wine production until now this turn had not happened as “Stumbled” on the reluctance of the winemakers themselves.

And that’s why, like the international media report, Wine producers are not 100% sure and convinced of this transition to absolute automation. Many winemakers fear that special-robot machines will not be careful and will cause damage to the grapes, which will consequently have negative consequences on the quality of the wine produced. If in this equation, also add the factors of high costs of these systems as well as legislation in some parts of Europe (such as the French Campania, the region where champagne is produced, which insists on traditional methods) which forbids the harvest of the crop by mechanical means, then we are already talking about a difficult problem for demanding solvers.

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“It was a very difficult decision for a small vineyard like ours. It will take a long time to pay off the investment. “But I no longer have to worry about the workers, whether they will come or not,” said Capelli, who bought her robotic system. French company Pellenc.

The company is doing a golden job in the pandemic as the demand for automatic grape harvesting systems in recent years has an annual increase of 5% -10%, but last year and this year this percentage jumped to 20%.

Robots are not compatible with all vineyards

One of the problems that winemakers claim to have with automated grape harvesting systems is the fact that not all of them compatible with certain types of vines, especially in France – a country which, in any case, is less dependent on foreign labor, based on local know-how and local manual work.

Also, in areas where high quality wine is produced, such as Burgundy, The local winemaking community is clear and unequivocal: “Robots and automated systems will not enter our vineyards because they will not harvest properly.”

“A bunch of grapes must reach the press without any damage at all. “And so far there is no machine that can do the harvest without causing even minor damage to the grapes,” says Philip Wimbro, Representative of the Comité Champagne of the Campaign.

The Italian winemakers, on the other hand, appear much more tolerant and relaxed, arguing that machines make harvesting as efficient and quality as humans do.

However, the only sure thing is that the robots are here and are not expected to leave European vineyards soon. On the contrary, as noted by wine market experts, it is estimated that they will multiply in the coming years.

The beginning was made with peaches

In the state of Georgia in the USA, where 65 million tons of peaches are produced annually, a fruit or which is difficult to grow, as the trees need constant supervision to produce the right fruits, have faced a similar problem in recent years: labor shortages due to low wages that gave absolutely no incentive for workers to work on peach plantations.

His scientists decided to give a solution to the problem Georgia Research Institute of Technology (GTRI), who built a robot that can perform all the tasks required to grow peaches, such as thinning the fruit and continuous pruning, when and where in the trees.

So far, the robot is showing effective in thinning trees, but in pruning is the truth that some mistakes are made (which cost many thousands of dollars) so researchers continue to strive to perfect it and be able to do other work better, faster and more efficiently.

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