'Crazy Englishman' looks to the skies for his wine to grow

'Crazy Englishman' looks to the skies for his wine to grow News Wine News
  • Thursday 12 April 2001

A British wine boffin is the first to be trying US satellite technology as a way of planting his vines.

Simon Hawkins, owner of Domaine du Fontenay in France's Cote Roannaise region, is using a global positioning system (GPS) in his vineyard for the May 2000 crop. Known as 'Crazy Englishman' to his colleagues, Hawkins plans to pitch 10, 000 new vines all placed within a centimetre of their 'perfect' positioning thanks to a group of 24 satellites, also used by the Pentagon and managed by the US Department of Defense.

The labour-saving method consists of Hawkins placing an antenna near the vineyard while he surveys the land with a mobile receiver. Both of these are linked to satellites that in turn calculate where the crops will be placed.

After gathering this information, Hawkins returns to the land with around 60 metal stakes. As he roams the area, his mobile unit then signals to him where to plant each stake via the satellite co-ordinates. 'It's very precise with absolutely no room for error,' Hawkins adds, 'the areas are pin-pointed exactly by the centimetre - much quicker than if I was to go back to the old method of using a tape-measure and t-squares.'

He has been making Gamay-based wine in the appellation for a decade and produces 60,000 bottles of red per year. Now, Hawkins has more time to concentrate on what is his hobby as well as his job. 'The benefit is that in two hours, I can do two days work, at a price not much higher, so I guess there's going to be other winemakers now thinking about changing their ways too,' he says.

Hawkins' first GPS-aided harvest will take place in five years.

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