Precision Agriculture at Chateau Ste. Michelle: VISION Conference Tech Tour Gives Up-Close View

Winegrape production – with its relatively smaller tracts of highly manageable land and potentially monstrous returns on investment – is especially fertile ground for precision agriculture technology.

Dr. Russell Smithyman

Dr. Russell Smithyman, Director of Viticulture, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, will lead a pre-conference precision tech talk at Chateau Ste. Michelle just prior to the 2020 PrecisionAg VISION Conference.

So what better way to lead into the fourth edition of the PrecisionAg® VISION Conference, Jan. 14-16, 2020, in Seattle, WA, U.S., than with a tech tour visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle, home to one of the largest wine growers in the U.S.?

Limited seats are available exclusively for VISION Conference attendees, who will depart from our host hotel on the afternoon of Tues., Jan. 14, for the Woodinville, WA, facility of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SWME). There, they’ll hear an expert presentation on the vineyard’s viticulture and precision agriculture practices and enjoy a wine and cheese tasting to follow. A conference registration plus an additional fee of $129 is required to join the tour.

Leading SWME’s tech talk will be Dr. Russell Smithyman, Director of Viticulture. He heads the production team that grows the grapes that ultimately become SWME’s world-renowned wines, including its Rieslings, of which SWME is the single-largest producer in the world.


Included in SWME’s precision repertoire is variable use of irrigation. “Two decades ago, we irrigated all the different varieties the same way,” Smithyman, who in a previous role led research for the operation, told Meister Media’s Rosemary Gordon. Now, SWME incorporates deficit irrigation into production of varieties where they’re more concerned with quality than yield – a reserve ‘Cabernet,’ for instance. “So we are trying to create a small berry with a higher skin to juice ratio that gives us a better-colored wine,” Smithyman said.

SWME also makes use of field imagery to identify variability in their vineyards. Using these insights, the operation has changed management practices to improve uniformity and, using differential harvesting, to also make different wines from the same vineyard.

In its continuing quest to provide high-quality but affordable wines, SWME also has incorporated mechanization into its operation as well – for instance, using a mechanical grape harvester for crop thinning at or before the grapes’ lag phase.

Smithyman will review all of these techniques and more through a visually impactful presentation.

Visit for more information and to register for the VISION Conference and the pre-conference visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle.

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