Practical Winery
58-D Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903-2054
phone:415/479-5819 · fax:415/492-9325
email: Office@practicalwinery.com
Winegrowing - Page 1

November/December 1998


How GIS can help vineyard development
By Jamie Carothers, VESTRA Resources, Inc.

Hess Collection Winery (Napa, CA) is implementing an in-house geographic information system. The system will give Richard Camera, director of vineyard operations, a geographic basis for organizing, displaying, and evaluating all of the information available about his vineyards, including soil type, irrigation layout, rootstocks, yields, and more from outside consultants, surveyors, and engineers.

The information will be organized into spatial databases, and the winery will manage and update the information in-house. The Hess Collection is using a number of modern technologies, with a geographic information system (GIS) as the centerpiece.

Camera expects to use the system to help him manage development of two large new vineyards and several small ones. These projects will add 450 acres to the winery’s 750 planted acres in California. "I have been looking for a program which would allow me to organize the large amount of data involved in the decision-making process," says Camera.

What is GIS?

My university degree was in geography, and with it I developed a fondness for maps. This has always had an influence on my view of the world and on my management style." One look around his office yields an appreciation for the importance of maps in managing Hess Collection vineyards, both existing and developing. Camera’s predilection for maps coupled with The Hess Collection’s philosophy of being innovative and in front of the pack combined to produce strong support for the GIS project.

Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI), a world leader in the field of GIS software, offers this formal definition of a geographic information system:

An organized collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data, and personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, and display geographically referenced information.

Legend - click for larger view Enlarged view of legend Enlarged view of Identify Results Box If you are using javascript clicking on legends will launch larger view.
A 3-D view of The Hess Collection’s American Canyon vineyard development, using GIS software. Purple blocks identify rootstock. The "Identify Results" box shows the database attached to vine rows (blocks, subblock, rootstock, etc.)

While accurate, comprehensive, and widely accepted, this definition does not help the newcomer to GIS a great deal. Perhaps the following definition from ESRI offers more: A GIS is a computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing things that exist and events that happen on earth, using common database operations such as query (asking questions of data) and statistical analysis, with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by maps.

Another way to explain GIS is by analogy: consider several patchwork quilts spread upon a bed. Each quilt represents a different layer of information (e.g., yield, wine quality, rainfall, soil, chemistry, rootstock, clonal selection, rows, block boundaries, irrigation, etc.), and each patch represents a different area within that layer. The bed represents the geographic extent of the entire project.

In addition to the spatial data — the shape of each patch and its location in the quilt — there exists descriptive or attribute data — the stuffing inside the quilt — describing the attributes associated with each patch. The more layers of patches overlaid one upon the other and the more detailed the attributes within each layer, the more richly detailed the information "quilt."

The GIS is not simply a computer system for making thematic maps of various locations at different scales with attractive colors (although it does this quite well); rather, the major advantage of the GIS is that it allows complex and detailed analysis of the spatial relationships between map features and their descriptive data.

As intelligent humans, we can only effectively track three or four layers of information overlay before record keeping becomes a nightmare. Here is where modern computer hardware and GIS software become useful.

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