So Close and Yet So Far

June 2021

On June 15, 2021, California reopened. Covid restrictions were lifted and, just like that, life started to return to normal. Six days later, we held our joint Precision Viticulture Symposium with the American Society for Enology and Viticulture…virtually. (More on the symposium here.)

When we first announced the event, it was planned to be live, part of the ASEV National Conference in dreamy Monterey, CA. The organizing committee—Russ Smithyman (NGRA Board Chair), Keith Striegler (E. & J. Gallo Winery), Terry Bates (Cornell), Mason Earles (UC Davis) and I—mapped out two full days: one day of conference proceedings and a day of tours and demonstrations of precision viticulture tools, technologies and best practices at vineyards in the Monterey AVA. It was difficult, deciding to hold the event via Zoom. And of course it meant foregoing the field day. But we agreed that, given the uncertainty around vaccines and variants, air travel and gatherings, and our mutual desire to keep speakers and attendees safe, it would be most prudent to pivot. So, on June 21, we produced a hybrid digital event, where most presentations were pre-recorded, but our closing keynoter (Nick Dokoozlian, E. & J. Gallo Winery), all moderators, all panelists and all Q&A discussions were live on Zoom. It went off without a hitch, thanks in large part to a grant from the USDA-NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

But those six days made the success of the event bittersweet. I know most people wouldn’t have had time to plan to travel to Monterey. Some might not have been quite ready to sit on a plane or in a conference room with hundreds of people. I’ve heard tales of epic waits at airport security checkpoints and mask disputes on flights, and staffing issues at hotels and conference centers leading to banquet orders shorted and mismatched casts of characters (General Managers in suits next to waitstaff in uniforms and janitors in coveralls) setting and clearing lunch tables. I know that, if we’d proceeded with the symposium in person, there would’ve been hiccups. There would’ve been risk. But we were maddeningly close!

Together with ASEV, we do plan to forge ahead with the onsite demo day in Spring 2022. With any luck, we’ll see you there, live and in person. Rest assured, we’ll give you more than six days to plan!

Donnell Brown
NGRA President