We maintain and operate a small research vineyard. The plantings are Foch, Cabernet franc, and Chardonnay. The yields are not sufficient for our own wine production, so we purchase grapes from vineyards in NJ and from California. The vineyard is however very useful for developing and testing sustainable viticulture practices. From the beginning, we eschewed the use of herbicides and pesticides. All our drinking water comes from wells and we do not want to contaminate this vital resource in any way. Weed control is done by a unique machine that destroys weeds using superheated steam. Insects are controlled by manual inspection and removal. After many failed attempts using various techniques to control bird damage, we finally resorted to side-netting. This is applied in late summer, and provides excellent protection without harming the wonderful avian wildlife in our area.
NJ does not have the best climate for grape growing, and the short growing season sometimes makes it difficult to get mature grapes. However, we get plenty of regular rainfall so we have no irrigation needs. Like every other grape grower, we have to deal with fungus infections. For this we do minimal spraying, based on humidity and climatic conditions, of environmentally gentle fungicides, such as sulfur.
Another innovation being tested in our vineyard is VinoRobo. This is a tracked autonomous robot we are developing to perform various mundane tasks in the vineyard. It can bring grapes in at harvest, spray along the rows, and we are training it to inspect grape clusters, scare birds away, and even trim weeds and grass in the vineyard. It is becoming increasing difficult to find farm labor in our area and VinoRobo is going to be our future vineyard worker! VinoRobo is sometimes joined by DroneRobo which takes regular aerial surveys of foliage along the rows.