Sogrape Vinhos: improving wine production thanks to satellite and climate information

The Company

Sogrape Vinhos is a Portuguese family-owned company, based in Porto. In 1942, with European markets in turmoil and supplies cut off by war, its founder Fernando van Zeller Guedes decides to create a wine for the Brazilian market. This resulted in the creation of the first global Portuguese wine brand—Mateus Rosé—which is currently sold in more than 120 countries. Today Sogrape Vinhos owns over 750 hectares of vineyards in all the key Portuguese wine regions. It is the largest family-owned wine company in Portugal.

The Challenge

The taste and character of wine are heavily influenced by weather conditions. The effects of climate change —droughts, diseases, soil erosion, heavy rainfall and hail — can severely damage grapes. Entire crops can be compromised due to heat or delayed harvests. Thus, precise soil and climate information are vital for vineyard management and winemaking practices. To obtain such information, the company used to rely on the Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute’s weather stations. However, due to their distant location from the vineyards, on many occasions the data was unusable.

Thus, in 2009 the company launched the I.C.O.N.E project (co-financed by the Portuguese government with approx. 25%). The project aimed to survey consumer preferences in order to tailor the company’s production strategy accordingly. Identified preferences could be transposed into winemaking protocols and more specifically, into grape quality specification. To achieve these specifications more and better geo-information and climate data were needed.

The Satellite Solution

To obtain more reliable data, a network of 21 automatic weather stations was installed directly in the company vineyards. Detailed vineyard data was then merged with production, climate, soil and grape physiology data on 1:10 000 scale digital maps. To monitor vines individually, 20 cm resolution aircraft remote sensing vegetation data was used. For seasonal (3-6months) and long term (3-5 years) forecasts, Sogrape Vinhos also uses data from the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI Climate Explorer), the European Meteorological Center (ECMWF) and the International Research Institute on Climate of Columbia University.

The Result

On-site weather stations allowed the company to acquire almost real-time weather data with an availability rate of 85-90%. Due to better forecasting, Sogrape Vinhos saves over €30,000 per year by limiting treatments, tractor fuel and labour. By monitoring the vine’s water needs relative to soil moisture, the producer has managed to save 25 % of its water consumption for irrigation while increasing production and grape quality by 15%, as water alocations are determined on a block-by-block basis and in function of each year’s rainfall and temperatures.

Furthermore, the data and protocols developed through consecutive projects, has fuelled subsequent research and work on climate adaptation measures for vineyard’s sustainability. The company is currently working together with other international partners in setting up a new global framework for vineyard adaptability to climate changes.

Galileo Galilei once said that «wine is sunlight held together by water». In Sogrape, we are combining the most advanced terrestrial and space technologies to make sure we will never be in short supply of both sunlight and water for our vineyards. This will provide our winemakers with the best and most diverse grapes to keep on crafting great wines for all consumersAntonio Américo da Rocha Graça,  Research and Development Sogrape Vinhos S.A.