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Boutique Winery Believes RFID Offers a Barrelful of Benefits

The CEO of a manufacturer of active RFID hardware deploys his company's new wireless sensor system to monitor temperature and humidity at a winery he owns and operates.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 15, 2008When Cypress Semiconductor Corp.'s CEO, T.J. Rodgers, wanted to put his company's new product, known as the CyFi wireless sensor mesh system, to the test, he knew just where to go. Rodgers and his wife, Valeta, own a small wine company, Clos de la Tech, located in the Santa Cruz mountains. There, he cools, ferments and ages his pinot noir grape mix to make wine that he sells directly to customers, who order bottles online or by mail.

Pinot noir grapes require a long, cold soak prior to fermentation, and the temperature must remain within a specific range in order to maintain the quality of the grapes and their flavor. So with Cypress engineer Jim Davis at hand, Rodgers went about personally installing the system at his own winery, to track temperature changes in his product as it cools in the "cold soak" process prior to fermentation, as well as the equipment that keeps the wine cool.

At the Clos de la Tech winery, Rodgers holds a thermocouple connected to an RFID transponder.
It took Rodgers about two hours to install the system, which has been in place for the past five weeks. "I demanded of the engineers that they make it quick and reliable," he says. "I asked for software that can be turned on in a few minutes, or that can change its configuration easily. The whole idea is that we don't have time or money for conduit, wire and electricians."

Cypress' CY3271 PSoC FirstTouch starter kit, which Rodgers used to deploy his system, includes software, two transponders with built-in temperature sensors and an RFID interrogator (transceiver). The transponders and reader can be used to create a wireless mesh network of nodes that can track and transmit data regarding everything from temperature to security breeches, or changes in gauges at manufacturing sites, depending on the types of sensors to which the nodes are connected. When prompted by a signal from an interrogator, each transponder transmits 2.4 GHz signals containing its unique ID number and sensor data to other nodes, or directly to a reader that can plug into a laptop USB port. The transponders and interrogators employ a proprietary air-interface protocol to transmit their signals, with an average read range of 100 to 200 meters (328 to 656 feet).

For wineries, Rodgers says, the system can help reduce the man hours spent monitoring any temperature fluctuation in the wine mix temperatures. The process for making pinot noir wine can be time-consuming, since the grapes must cool to below 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit) for days, or even several weeks. That temperature must be monitored frequently—sometimes as often as every 15 minutes—to make sure the grape mix remains cool prior to fermentation. If the temperature fluctuates, the flavor of the mix can be compromised. For that reason, wine makers usually hire a large crew of employees who use a thermocouple to measure temperatures within the vats and record them on paper.

Rodgers, who has a small winemaking operation, had been utilizing a digital thermometer to check temperatures, whenever he had the opportunity to do so. He had no way of knowing, however, how temperatures may have fluctuated during his absence. The CyFi system, he hoped, would guarantee that temperatures were being monitored even when he could not be there.

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