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Tech and tradition create great vintage

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Wine makers at Tokara vineyard know which are the highest-yielding grapes thanks to infrared technology.

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Viniculture
Technology (general)
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STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (CNN) -- The art of wine making may be thousands of years old, but a South African vineyard is using the modern technique of photo imaging technology to get the most out of its highest-yielding grapes.

Tokara vineyard in Stellenbosch uses a small plane fitted with photo imaging equipment to take infrared photos of its grapes.

The photos produce a map, which helps wine making experts to identify which of its grapes will produce the best yield, without having to physically touch the vines.

Photo imaging expert Julian Smit introduced the practice to Tokara. He told CNN that monitoring vineyards was a great use for infrared technology.

"What we're looking for is essentially the reflectance in the various wavelengths. The chlorophyll content of all plants has a high reflectance in the infrared and that, in particular, is the wavelength we get most of our information out of," he says.

"So, the difference in the infrared wavelength that are reflected off the canopy gives a strong indication as to the plant vigor and that will show differences within the vineyard."

Tokara viticulturists Aidan Morton told CNN using the airplane was enormously beneficial for the five-year-old vineyard, enabling it to save time which in turn meant saving money, giving Tokara an edge over rival vineyards.

"The biggest value for us out of this is to be able to identify the differences in quality. Where previously in a block we would have picked as one block of cabernet and sent it off to the winery and made one wine out of it we can now identify zones that are of a much higher quality and therefore of a much higher value."

He insists, however, that the use of modern techniques will not see old-fashioned methods die out.

"The old traditional methods will never go away. Grapes are still picked by hand and they are still crushed in wooden presses and they still age in old wooden barrels and that hasn't changed and I don't think that will ever change," he said.

"But all around are new technologies which are improving the systems that support these traditional methods. To me that's the beauty. It's a blend of technology, of ancient methods and of the environment. These three things make great wine."

This is something Tokara chief wine maker miles Mossop whole-heartedly agrees with.

"We still have the art and I still try to implement and utilize a lot of the old techniques because they have been proven, but this just helps us to do the job better," Mossop told CNN.

CNN's Shantelle Stein contributed to this report.

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