Robots May Save California's Wine Industry From the Drought

UC Davis is now developing cutting-edge winemaking technologies like irrigation sensors and robots that can reduce the amount of water needed to make one gallon of precious wine. That’s about a 90 percent improvement, by the way.

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Aug 14 2015, 8:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Lori Branham

We interrupt your regularly scheduled series of depressing, California drought-stricken agriculture news to finally bring you some good news: Your favorite California pinots, zins, rosés, and even that box of Franzia chardonnay that you have a nostalgic soft spot for may have all just been spared from the terrorizing wrath of the state's scorched earth.

You can thank the efforts of UC Davis' Departments of Viticulture and Enology and its Department of Mechanical Engineering for this one. They are now developing cutting-edge winemaking technologies like irrigation sensors and robots that can reduce the amount of water needed to make one gallon of precious wine. That's about a 90 percent improvement, by the way.

While the amount of water needed to make your favorite chilled glass of whatever may not be the first thing that you ponder while sharing a bottle with friends on a Friday evening, the reality is that it takes anywhere from four to six gallons of water to produce just one gallon of wine. After all, you have to also take into account the water used for washing the grapes and equipment—not just the water used to grow grapes. Contrary to popular beliefs, wine grapes are actually drought-tolerant.

The best part of all of this? These technologies may be available as soon as next year.

That's the takeaway from a report published in The Sacramento Bee that covered UC Davis' showcase yesterday, where they demonstrated their latest attempt to make sure their student-produced wine is not only delicious but also water-conscious. Other techniques to save more of California's ever-dwindling precious resource included sampling different soils used to grow grapes and combining them with different water filtering systems, too.

The aforementioned robots will be specifically designed to cut the excessive amount of water used to hose grape peels off the floors and into proper drains by automatically pushing peels into the right spots without using water. The report goes on to state that these heroic students have already tested their design and have applied for a patent. So don't be surprised if they show up in an episode of Shark Tank sometime real soon.

It wasn't all cutting-edge tech at the showcase, however; the school also revealed that three new 30-foot-tall metal tanks outside the winery have been built to collect and filter rainwater from around campus for use in quotidian things like flushing toilets.

To our readers who proudly consider themselves winos and are afraid of these new water-efficient winemaking strategies potentially messing up the subtle notes of peach skin and dark chocolate nougat in your favorite red—no worries, Charles Brenneman, the department's winemaker, has confirmed that taste will always remain a dominant factor when developing these new water-reducing strategies.