MARAUDING birds can be a curse at wine vintage time, but a new counter measure in the form of a high-tech drone is being trialled in Hunter, Hilltops and Orange vineyards.
Led by Sydney University School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering PhD candidate Zi Wang, the trial uses an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that mimics bird behaviour.
Zi, 26, has tested the UAV during vintage at Ken and Gwen Sloan's Mistletoe vineyard in Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, and in the Young area at the Prunevale vineyard of former Charles Sturt University Professor of Wine Science-turned Hilltops vigneron Brian Freeman.
Further trials of the multi-rotor hexacopter drone are due during this week's 2019 Orange vintage.
The drone has a global positioning system, an antenna and long-range telemetry radio.
GPS coordinates and a ground control laptop allow the team to fly the drone over vines to emit mimicked bird distress calls.
Zi told me last week that to get birds to see the drone as a predator the team had fixed a dummy crow, with wings open on the UAV undercarriage.
In other trials mirrors were attached.
The crow dummy was intended to create the impression that the UAV had just caught a crow and other birds were in danger.
In the Mistletoe trials the main problem birds were noisy miners and fairy wrens and at Hilltops silvereyes.
Zi said the aim was to get the system to detect the presence of birds and to automatically launch the drone to scare winged predators off from ripening grapes.
Because of the drought, birds, fruit bats and kangaroos have lost many of their normal food sources and have been attracted in increasing numbers to vineyards.
Tyrrell's chief Bruce Tyrrell said last week that birds, bats and roos had reduced the 2019 grape tonnage in his company's 290 hectares of vineyard by 15 per cent
NSW Department of Primary Industries viticulture development officer Darren Fahey, estimates that birds cause $300 million-a-year crop and winegrape losses in Australia.
Short-term responses from a variety of species had indicated that the UAV had the potential to eliminate birds from vineyards, Fahey said.
Ultimately the UAV results would be compared with netting and other control measures.
Gas-powered thunderclap guns have long been used to scare off birds.
Laser bird scarers have also been tried in Adelaide Hills vineyards.
PROOF of Brian Freeman's gift for Italian varieties, this 14 per cent -alcohol Freeman 2017 Altura Vineyard Hilltops Sangiovese is bright crimson and berry pastille-scented. The front palate has vibrant raspberry flavour, the middle palate bramble jelly, cloves and spicy oak and the finish minty tannins. At freemanvineyards.com.au and wine stores.
DRINK WITH: moussaka.
AGEING: six years.
RATING: 5 stars
ZINGY BARBERA RED
THE Tulloch 2018 Hilltops Cellar Door Release Barbera is a zingy, 13 per cent alcohol red on sale only at the Tulloch Pokolbin cellar door and to wine club members. It's bright garnet and has briar and herb scents and spicy cherry front-palate flavour. The middle palate has plum, spearmint and cedary oak and the finish earthy tannins.
DRINK WITH: chicken cacciatore.
AGEING: four years.
RATING: 4.5 stars
LOCK ON TO VALUE
THIS 14 per cent-alcohol Moppity vineyard Lock and Key 2016 Single-Vineyard Hilltops Shiraz is great value atmoppity.com.au and some wine shops. It has deep purple hues, potpourri aromas and intense, ripe plum front-palate flavour. The middle palate has rhubarb, peppermint chocolate, licorice and savoury oak and the finish ferric tannins.
DRINK WITH: veal saltimbocca.
AGEING: 10 years.
RATING: 5 stars