Drones are in the process of revolutionising our society. Although certain sectors still await their entry into action, they have already begun to invade the world of wine. The L&R Kox Estate has been using a drone since 2019 to spray its vines.
A 1-metre white drone hovers over Corinne Kox's rows of vines. With the help of its six propellers, this imposing ally of the winegrower takes off in the direction of the vineyards. With sensors and a crop protection product, it fights devastating fungi on grapes from the air. It weighs about 15 kilos each time it takes off, mainly because of its load. And it goes back-and-forth frequently. For 2.5 acres, it needs to fly 10 or 11 times, and the canister and battery need to be changed every time. It is a tiring task, confirms the winegrower.
'This year, we sprayed 7.4 acres with the drone,' Corinne Kox says. 'It's a very tiring job because the plots are not next to each other.' Overall, the young winegrower handles 30 acres, 22 of which are still treated the traditional way, with a helicopter or a tractor. For now, the drone still needs to coexist with these conventional devices. 'We don't use the drone to replace the other machinery. To me, the drone is an extra tool.' According to her, the technology is not yet good enough to handle all the plots. 'The risk of betting only on the drone would be too great,' she adds.
The drone is generally only used in spring and summer, every five days between May and July. The winegrower uses organic crop protection products against fungi. 'The fungicides we use are only contact products. A mixture of sulphur and copper,' explains Corinne Kox.
Wine from old amphoras
The use of amphoras is the oldest method of producing and preserving wines. These vases allow the vinification of a natural wine through spontaneous fermentation with the addition of minimal doses of sulphur before bottling. This Georgian culture has been "forgotten" for centuries and is now experiencing a revival. This old tradition of amphora vinification is now taking root in Luxembourg. Two kvevris were installed in July 2014 at Domaine Viticole L&R Kox in Remich. The wines made from the kvevris are wines that can be kept for a long time. At Domaine L&R Kox, the first grape varieties vinified in kvevri are Pinot Blanc and Riesling.
Source: Domaine L&R Kox
Advantages all the way
In 2019, the Luxembourgish young woman launched the project to spray her vineyards in order to prevent the appearance of fungi. She belongs to Europe's pioneers of this technique. It was initially some sort of experiment in partnership with Luxaviation. The winegrower then decided not to give up on these remote controlled devices. The idea has been emulated, because around 3 to 4 other winegrowers are now using drones to spray their vines.
And it's no coincidence that winegrowers are more interested in this type of technology. Even though the technology is not yet fully developed, the drone's interventions have several advantages. Unlike helicopters, drones can fly over the vines at a low altitude. 'It can fly lower and do a much more accurate job. It makes much less noise than a helicopter and it can fly over places that a tractor or helicopter can't reach, such as steeply sloping vineyards or close to houses,' says Corinne Kox.
In fact, the drone flies only two metres above the vines and involves no contact with the soil, which is important for the grapes' growth. According to the winemaker, the primary goal is to maintain the integrity of the ecosystems in the soil and thereby ensure the soil's sustainability. 'Tractors crush the soil and leave wheel tracks in it. Not to mention that soil compaction can lead to a lack of oxygen for the vines, which has an impact on the grape quality's evolution'.
Winegrowers also save time with this flying ally. According to the winegrower, the drone has the advantage of being more flexible in relation to the weather. In the morning dew for example, it can leave directly and one no longer needs to wait for the soil to dry. In such a situation, a tractor could slide down the slope and cause a serious accident.
Drones have a great future ahead of them
Since Corinne Kox took over the management of her parents' estate in 2019, she has been working in partnership with Luxaviation to spray the product for the treatment of her vines. The drone is owned by the aviation company and the winegrower only pays for the service to the company. She tells us that such a drone would cost around 15,000 euros, a financial commitment that she does not intend to make. 'The company Luxaviation has all the necessary equipment. They have the staff, a team and all the technical equipment and know-how for this kind of work. What's more, technology changes so fast that you always run the risk of being overtaken by it,' she adds.
Corinne Kox is happy with the work of her remote-controlled ally. And her ambitions for the future are clear: next year, she wants to increase the number of plots to be treated.