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A High-Tech Tractor

Posted by CM Support
Jan 10, 2014 | Keywords: high-tech  vineyards  viticulture  wine-making  

Clos de la Tech’s vineyards are arrayed across some very steep south-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, angling up from the horizontal from 25 degrees to 45 degrees, and in a few areas, up to a 75 degree slope, which practically calls for pitons and climbing gear!

These steep vineyards make any kind of mechanized work – and a lot of manual work – almost impossible. Techniques for dealing with such slopes in the past have included a rappel-like rope system that lowered a worker down the rows to work on the vines, and a one-meter wide go-kart that was winched up and down the slope.

We approached German wine-agricultural firm Clemens GmbH to design a go-kart-style tractor capable of dealing with the slope at Domaine Lois Louise.  Because our vines are planted in rows just one meter apart, we asked for a tractor that was narrower than their standard one-meter width. The president of the company said that we should space our rows more widely, which of course we would not do, since we already had our vines in the ground.

The Clemens president was adamant, so we said we would order the one-meter tractor equipment. He asked: “So you are going to move your vines?” We said no, we would take the one-meter tractor home, saw off the middle part and weld it back together to fit our rows. At that point, he laughed and agreed to work with us to make a tractor to our specifications.

This one-of-a-kind tractor has adjustable legs so that the frame always remains level no matter how steep the slope. This tractor makes it possible for us to efficiently hand-tend vines on a slope of 60 degrees. Because it is moved up and down the hill by cables, it needs no motor, steering wheel or brake – control is achieved by a joystick, just like a video game. No other tractor in the world has demonstrated the ability to handle both vertical slope and side slope in a close-spaced vineyard.

Our unique tractor is a great example of the Clos de la Tech approach to wine-making – applying engineering know-how and technological innovation to the service of this most ancient of crafts. It’s the only way we know to pursue our goal of making the finest Pinot Noir in the Western Hemisphere!