California Dreaming

By Claudio Piccinini

The second week of August I travelled again to USA from UK, this time with destination the sunny Napa Valley in California. After a long trip by plane I finally reached San Francisco airport and there I had a surprise, they forgot to put my baggage on the plane, but they assured me they would send it the day after (in reality I got it after 3 days!).  From the airport I travelled to the city of Davis passing through the San Francisco highways. I knew this big city because when I was a child in the 80s I used to watch a TV series called “The Streets of San Francisco”, actually that series was a drama but I loved the scenes where the 2 detectives drove up and down the steep streets while chasing some criminals.

When I reached Davis I had the second surprise, they made a wrong hotel booking for me, they booked a hotel with the same name but located in a different city! Fortunately a room was still available. The day after I travelled to Oakville in Napa Valley, where the “UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology” administers the “Jacob Research Facility”. To get there I passed through the “Putah Creek State Wildlife Area”, a beautiful natural area that touches Lake Berryessa, the largest lake in Napa County with a surface around 20,000 acres.

Napa Valley is mostly famous for wine production. I was curious about the history of this place so I made some research about how things started. Looks like the beginning dates back to 1779, when the missionary Junipero Serra planted California's first sustained vineyard with a grape variety called “mission”. Nearly a century later John Patchett opened the first commercial winery. Things were not easy when in 1880 the parasite Phylloxera destroyed many vineyards and then in 1919 a nationwide constitutional band prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. The band lasted until 1933 and as a result many wineries were closed. In 1976 Napa Valley got another chance with the famous tasting competition held in France, where the myth was broken that you could only find good wine in France. The Napa Valley winemaking industry got the boost it needed, and now boasts annual harvests of billions of dollars, helping more than positively the California economy.

The UC Davis research facility is a nice place with two vineyards, the “South Station” and the “Old Federal Vineyards” plus some indoor laboratories. They are working on variable-rate vineyard management which is based on the delineation of homogenous classes, each class having similar yield limiting factors. In particular I liked the automatic irrigation system, every vineyard row has its own series of pipes and the most interesting part is that each row can be irrigated independently.

The process for the delineation of homogenous classes starts with the collection of different point datasets. Datasets will be the input for the web-based decision support system platform I am currently building. The platform will allow users to upload and store in a database 4 types of datasets: yield, soil, canopy, and proximal sensors. After uploading the data users will be able to do some pre-processing and execute interpolation to create map layers. Different map layers will be combined with the aid of multicriteria decision analysis tools in order to delineate the zones. Finally users will be able to visualize the zones on a map and download maps to their desktop/mobile devices.

I enjoyed the time passed there, people are friendly and the sky is always sunny. I passed 3 nights in a little house adjacent the offices, I could open the door and be directly inside the vineyard! Unfortunately 4 days are not much, but I hope to go back to California in the future and maybe have some time to visit the city of San Francisco.