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Harvesting Data for Better Wine

Demand for Japanese wine is continuing to grow, both domestically and in overseas markets. This reflects the steady improvement in quality in recent years. Winemakers are now starting to use detailed weather observations to supplement their traditional know-how.

Yamanashi Prefecture is one of Japan's top wine producing areas.

Winemaker Masakazu Nakamura has a vineyard covering about 2 hectares in the prefecture.

To ensure that he gets the best output, Nakamura relies on weather data.

"This is a sensor that measures the temperature and humidity," Nakamura said. "The equipment above it is a raindrop sensor. And at the top is the transmitter."

Working with an electronics company, Nakamura installed the sensors four years ago. They take readings of the temperature and humidity levels every 10 minutes.

Using this system, farmers can see the daily temperature differential, so they can gauge the right time to harvest their grapes.

Nakamura also uses the data to identify weather patterns that could make the vines prone to disease.

A graph indicates the temperature and humidity levels at 2 locations in his vineyard. It shows that temperatures ranged between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, and humidity was at 70 to 80 percent. Nakamura has found that when those two conditions occur, there is a high likelihood of mold growing on the leaves or fruit.

So he cut the grass in his fields, to allow greater air circulation and to reduce the moisture level as much as possible.

Thanks to this use of the observation data, he has been able to reduce his usage of chemical sprays by about a half.

"Now I'm accustomed to analyzing the data, I feel comfortable about increasing my acreage," Nakamura said. "This has been a great help for me to improve my product quality."

A program for improving the quality of grapes by making use of data has also been set up by a university in the same region.

Professor Toru Okuda has been collecting a large volume of data on sunshine hours, wind velocity and the water content of the soil.

Okuda also analyzes the grapes for acidity, sugar content and other factors, to find out how their taste is affected by the weather conditions.

"By taking detailed observations, we can harvest the grapes at their peak, and this can help enhance the quality of the wine." Okuda said. "I hope this data can be of use to grape growers."

Okuda intends to collaborate with researchers in France in his analysis of grapes, to further improve the quality of Japanese wine.

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