Satellite Imagery, Drones, and GIS in Vineyard Management

Vineyard management with geospatial technologies (Image courtesy
Vineyard management with geospatial technologies (Image courtesy

When you think of viticulture, you probably think of people in the vineyards training the vines, thinning foliage, or green harvesting.  But there is more technology being used in vineyard management than you know.  Satellite imagery, drones, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are all tools that are more commonly used by viticulturists.  My career has been in geospatial technologies since the late 1980s when satellite images were very coarse and blurry (60m ground resolution from Landsat 1 MSS), drones did not exist, GIS was just starting to be known, and would need to run on a UNIX workstation or mini-computer.  Things have changed tremendously in the geospatial field over time and it has affected vineyard management.  Let me tell you a bit about these technologies and how they are used for vineyards.  

Satellite Imagery

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index satellite image (Image courtesy
Normalized Difference Vegetation Index satellite image showing vegetation health (Image courtesy

Satellite imagery is becoming an increasingly popular tool for vineyards to monitor their crops and manage their operations more efficiently. With the ability to capture high-resolution images from space (down to 10cm panchromatic and 40cm colour/multispectral from the Albedo satellite), satellites can provide valuable information on soil moisture, plant health, and overall vineyard conditions. This data can be used to optimize irrigation schedules, identify potential issues before they become serious problems, and make more informed decisions about crop management strategies.  Various high-spatial resolution satellites can also collect imagery in stereo for photogrammetric mapping!

One common use of satellite imagery in vineyards is to monitor soil moisture levels. By analyzing images of the vineyard over time, growers can track changes in soil moisture and adjust irrigation schedules accordingly. This can help to conserve water, reduce irrigation costs, and prevent overwatering or underwatering, which can both have negative effects on crop health. Additionally, satellite imagery can help to identify areas of the vineyard that may be experiencing drainage issues, allowing growers to make improvements to soil structure and drainage systems as needed.  

Another way that satellite imagery is being used in vineyards is to assess plant health and detect potential disease or pest issues. By analyzing images of the vineyard at various wavelengths, growers can identify areas where plants may be stressed or damaged, allowing them to take action to prevent further harm. Satellite imagery can help to identify areas where pests or diseases may be present before they become visible to the naked eye (as stressed vegetation shows reflectance differences in the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The NDVI technique is often used). This early detection can allow growers to take measures to prevent the spread of pests or diseases throughout the vineyard, which can help to minimize crop losses and reduce the need for pesticides. With the ability to provide detailed information on plant health and growing conditions, satellite imagery is quickly becoming an essential tool for vineyard management.


DJI Phantom Series drone
DJI Phantom Series drone

Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are rapidly gaining popularity in the agriculture industry, including vineyards, where they offer a variety of benefits for growers. The most common UAVs are quadcopters. One of the most significant advantages of drones is their ability to capture high-spatial-resolution aerial imagery of vineyards quickly and efficiently.  As drones can fly quite low, image resolution can be in centimeters.  Drone operators are widely spread across Canada and the USA (as well as around the world) so getting an operator to come to a vineyard quickly to image the area two or more times during the growing season is quite feasible. 

These images can provide valuable insights into plant health, nutrient levels, and moisture conditions, which can help growers to identify potential issues early and take appropriate action to mitigate them. Additionally, drones can be used to create 3D maps of vineyards, which can be used to identify topographical features and plan irrigation and planting strategies accordingly.

Another important use of drones in vineyards is for crop spraying. Using drones equipped with spraying equipment, growers can apply pesticides, herbicides, and other treatments with greater precision and efficiency than traditional ground-based methods. This can help to reduce the amount of chemicals used, minimize the impact on the environment, and increase crop yields. Additionally, because drones can operate in difficult-to-reach areas of the vineyard, they can provide better coverage and reach than traditional spraying methods. As a result, drones are becoming an increasingly popular tool for vineyard management, providing growers with greater flexibility, efficiency, and precision in their crop management practices.

Geographic Information Systems

GIS in the vineyard (Image courtesy
GIS in the vineyard (Image courtesy

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are powerful tools that enable vineyard managers to analyze and visualize complex data related to their operations. With GIS, vineyards can gather data on a wide range of variables, including soil composition, climate, topography, and vineyard health, and analyze this data to gain insights into their operations. One common use of GIS in vineyards is to create detailed maps of the vineyard, which can be used to plan irrigation systems, optimize planting strategies, and identify areas of the vineyard that may require additional attention.  Mapping data for the GIS can come from ground surveys, drones, satellites, as well as government and private agencies.

Another important application of GIS in vineyards is in the management of vineyard pests and diseases. By mapping the distribution of pests and diseases throughout the vineyard, growers can target their control efforts more effectively, reducing the need for chemical treatments and minimizing the impact on the environment. GIS can also be used to identify areas of the vineyard that are at greater risk of pest and disease outbreaks, allowing growers to take preventive measures to protect their crops.

One common use of GIS in vineyards is for precision agriculture. By using GIS to map the vineyard, growers can identify areas of the vineyard that may require more or less water, fertilizer, or other inputs, allowing them to apply treatments more efficiently and effectively. Additionally, GIS can be used to monitor crop growth and yield over time, allowing growers to identify trends and make data-driven decisions about crop management strategies. With the ability to provide growers with a comprehensive view of their vineyards, GIS is quickly becoming an essential tool for vineyard management, helping growers to optimize their crop management practices and increase their yields.

GIS can help vineyards to optimize their operations by providing insights into the efficiency of their processes. By analyzing data on factors such as labour, equipment, and crop yields, growers can identify areas where improvements can be made, reducing costs and improving overall productivity. Additionally, by integrating data from multiple sources, including satellite imagery and drone data, GIS can provide a comprehensive view of the vineyard, allowing growers to make informed decisions about their operations. Overall, GIS is an invaluable tool for vineyard managers, providing them with the data-driven insights they need to make informed decisions and optimize their operations.  

One of the most popular GIS packages for agricultural management is called ArcGIS made by ESRI.  The GIS maps can be put on mobile devices and taken into the vineyards to guide the vineyard manager’s efforts.  The maps can be updated on mobile devices and information updated on the main GIS database in the vineyard manager’s office.  

Besides the airborne sources of information, any sensor data that you may collect in your vineyard, such as drip irrigation, can also be input to the GIS as long as you have the latitude/longitude location of the devices recorded.  Another source of data that you may collect in the early stages of setting up a vineyard is electric resistivity in the soil to determine unique soil blocks in your new vineyard area which can guide you in selecting the best grape varieties to plant.  GIS can merge together sub-surface data, at-surface data, and above-surface data!


If you would like to know more about these applications and tools or get some staff trained in their use, I can recommend the British Columbia Institute of Technology GIS department.  They have full online part-time studies courses so you can take the courses remotely.  The drone courses are offered by the BCIT Geomatics department.


Satellite imagery, drones, and GIS capabilities in vineyard management have grown over time as technology has progressed.  Rapid data collection and analysis over the vineyard is now possible with the data being stored in a database.  These data are stored and can be compared yearly to look for trends in the vineyard and take appropriate actions by the vineyard manager.  The data could also help the vineyard manager pinpoint the best-producing grapes or grape varieties in a vineyard.  Now with Artificial Intelligence software growing in capabilities, I can foresee that this tool will be used to sift through the data collected for the vineyard to spot patterns that may be difficult for us to detect.  The future of viticulture with these geospatial tools looks great in my opinion.  I look forward to hearing from wineries that are using these tools in the Comments section below.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.