Don't Drone Me.. Bro. by Keith Saarloos





Every day, winemakers walk up and down vineyards hoping to catch early signs of disease in their grapes. It’s an important part of their job because the minute fungus or bacteria get to the crops, things go south fast: entire harvests can be lost in a matter of days.

“By the time winemakers see visible signs of disease, it’s too late,” says David Baeza, founder and CEO of Vine Rangers. “At that point, they have to use the nuclear option and spray all their crops with pesticide; it’s like using chemotherapy to take care of an ordinary cold.”

Living close to Santa Barbara, Baeza had been hearing his vineyard-owning friends discussing their winemaking woes for many years, but nobody seemed to be thinking about how technology could help solve some of these problems. “Winemakers can sometimes be neophytes when it comes to applying technology,” says Baeza, who has spent his career in the tech sector, most recently as a VP at Citrix. Then it hit him: drones.

With the input of winemaking experts at University of California, Santa Barbara, Baeza recently launched Vine Rangers, a startup that uses air and ground level drones equipped with near-infrared cameras to inspect vineyards for possible crop diseases. “We see this as helping farmers to shift from reactive to proactive farming,” says Baeza. He says that until now, a few winemakers have tried to design customized drones to survey their own vineyards, which is a very expensive proposition. Vine Rangers, meanwhile, is the first low-cost drone platform to hit the vineyard market. It provides farmers with drones, software storage and processing for $20 a month per acre. The company even flies the drones, making it a turn-key system. (If winemakers were to purchase their own vine-watching drone, it could cost as much as $30,000.)

The drones gather data about grapes that would be undetectable to the human eye, allowing farmers to identify patches of disease-ridden crops and precision spray them with pesticides, rather than showering the whole vineyard. The overuse of pesticides can adversely affect both the taste of wine and the ecology of the vineyard by, for instance, killing off honeybees.

Vine Rangers also stitches together the raw images of the vines at canopy level with the airborne images, then processes this data with color spectrum analysis to give farmers important insights about their crops. Through an iOS or Android app, farmers can see the growth of the canopy, ripeness of the fruit, soil water penetration, in addition to the possibility of disease. “It ultimately helps them improve the consistency of fruit, which is a top priority to a farmer,” says Baeza.

Baeza sees Vine Rangers as an extension of the quantified-self movement. Many people are curious (okay, obsessed) about how their body is behaving or reacting to the environment. “Vineyards are also living things—this is like a quantified vineyard,” says Baeza. “Vineyard owners want to know everything they can about how their grapes are doing, but most do not have the tools to do this well.” Rather than relying on aggregate data or studies, Vine Rangers gives farmers unique insights into the conditions of their particular vineyard and, by extension, help them to improve production.

UCSB, which has embraced farming technology, is working with Vine Rangers on a three-year pilot program that will process and analyze the data received by the drones. Vine Rangers is hoping to expand the company’s reach over the next few years. Two wineries in Los Olivos, California—Saarloos and Sons, and Firestone Vineyard—serve as winery advisors, providing feedback that helps Vine Rangers improve the way drones can help make more wine.

[Photos: courtesy of Vine Rangers]


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You know what I love: by Keith Saarloos

People that you can texted 5:45 AM and expect a response people that you can text at 1 AM and expect a response people that have already been out hunting & hustling  since 6 AM trying to get their grind on and beat the hustle while everybody else is just getting to work. Farmers that wish there was more daylight and people that they thank God it's Monday. People that drag their kids around the work and show them this is how food at the table and the lights stay on. People that know the good times won't always stay good and the bad times won't always stay bad. People that tackle new challenges and by the end of it say now I know how to do that with pride convention. People that have never said that's not my job. People that Are convicted and hold their ground, And yell "come and take it". People who view our country has their daughter and Politicians as the boys asking her out on a date. People who vote with their dollars and want to see you spent it in the same town as they live. People who believe in craft before commodity and kill what they eat and eat what they kill. People that feel there is something sacred about standing around the fire and telling stories and warming their food. People who drink and eat like kings and work like a criminals. People who endure because they know there is something of great value that awaits them at the end. People who make a point of being a better parent than they had. People that use their turn signals Wave out the window and stop in the middle of the street to talk. Women who drive trucks and Jeeps and can launch a boat. Fat guys and hot wives. Women who don't want to marry prince charming but the guy who can build the castle. People that say hold my beer and watch this.  Fireworks every possible kind and combination.

Brielle Gets It. by Keith Saarloos

Get your hands dirty.

Get your hands dirty.

When I was a kid: during the summer, I went to work with my dad. I dumped trash, swept the warehouse, wrapped pallets. I saw my dad and my uncle work with my grandpa. We would eat lunch together and grandma would have sliced peaches in little bowl. I learned where things come from. The roof over our head, the food on our plate, and the pride of a well earned day in my heart.
Brielle asked to come rack wine with us today. It was a solid 12er. She didn't complain once, told good jokes & ran the pump perfectly. She was as sold a deck hand as one could hope for. 
She worked hard to impress @gregsaar , as he will be the one she reports to in the winery. When the wand slips as she sets it, pay special attention that she looks at him, not me. 
Brielle racked the last half of the Cabernet on her own. No instruction, other than she watched and learned all day. 
The best sermons are never spoken, they are devoured through the eyes of children. 
Brielle gets it. 
The 250 year plan is working. 
Honor + Prepare