High-tech mapping, using artificial intelligence and satellite imagery, has revealed that nearly half-a-million kilometres of grape vines are growing throughout Australia.
Funded by Wine Australia, the National Vineyard Scan determined the location and density of plantings, detecting a total of 463,718 kilometres of vine.
To put that into perspective, the distance between Earth and the Moon is 384,400 kilometres.
Fifty-one per cent (or 74,521 hectares) of the vine was found in South Australia, predominantly in the Riverland region, with New South Wales (34,031ha) and Victoria (23,633ha) well behind.
But Wine Australia analyst Sandy Hathaway said the data was about more than state bragging rights, representing a major technological achievement in the pursuit of understanding the country’s grape industry.
“Previously, to get the area of vineyards in Australia, we used data from the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), who went out to all the farmers and asked them how many hectares of grapevines they had,” she said.
“This time the methodology is completely different.
“Consilium Technology was engaged by Wine Australia to develop a computer algorithm that could look at aerial imagery and basically use patterns and pixels and various machine-learning strategies to detect what was a vineyard.
“Previously, humans had to take aerial imagery and look at it and say, ‘that looks like a vineyard’, and draw a boundary around it — you could imagine how long that would take to do the whole country.
“So this computer algorithm scanned five million hectares automatically and detected where there were vineyards.”
Greater level of detail
Using a specially designed web application, analysts can even detect the density and vigour of vines in a particular region.
It is data that is invaluable to an industry in which regional history and disease management are critical issues.
“This is really important for a number of reasons — for historical purposes, biosecurity, and for things like burn-off management, smoke taint identification … all sorts of applications.”
The map is also good news for wine enthusiasts, who can now be more confident that what they’re drinking really does come from the geographical indicator on the label.
“GI regions are defined in the Wine Australia Act … they’re protected names,” Ms Hathaway said.
“For example, no-one can say that their wine comes from the Murray-Darling unless they can prove that the grapes come from within a particular boundary.
“Those boundaries already existed, but we are now confident with a higher degree of accuracy as to each of those GI boundaries.”
She said the industry would also benefit from the greater level of detail available.
“For example, in the Hunter, the ABS used to report the area in the Hunter regions, but within the Hunter region there are three designated GI sub-regions, and we now know the area of vines within each sub-region, which we’ve never known before.”
Ms Hathaway said she was optimistic about the future possibilities for the technology, which may one day be able to detect not just the density and vigour of vines, but grape variety as well.
“Unfortunately at this stage the algorithm can’t tell us what the varieties are,” she said.
“But we are kind of hopeful that the techniques will evolve to evaluate wavelengths or maybe even leaf shape down the track.”