Reaping the Benefits of Cutting-Edge Irrigation Technologies
An increasing number of vineyard managers in Napa Valley are experimenting with cutting-edge technologies to precisely target irrigation scheduling, save water and increase the quality of the fruit on the vine.
Tule Technologies and Ranch Systems provide tools to vintners to measure Actual Evapotranspiration, vine stress and wirelessly provide vineyard data that can be linked to automated irrigation. Pine Ridge Vineyards and Chateau Montelena Winery were early adopters of these technologies and they are impressed with the results.
Our Ranch Systems weather stations combined with the Tule sensors have significantly reduced water use as well as labor. And with precision irrigation, the fruit quality dramatically improves.
Gustavo Aviña, vineyard manager for Pine Ridge Vineyards, first installed a Tule Sensor system at one of their up valley vineyards and spent a year comparing the data against pressure bomb readings. The numbers matched up, leading Aviña to install Tule systems at all of the estate vineyards eliminating the need for time intensive pressure bomb readings. Aviña was facing a particular challenge at their Las Posadas vineyard, which is furthest from the winery. This is typically the last vineyard picked and during harvest it was difficult to send someone up to start and stop the irrigation on a precise time table. Irrigation would occaisionally be delayed because the team was too busy down valley, often relying on the pre-set schedule to guide irrigation versus feedback from the vineyard about overall need.
The Pine Ridge team decided to install a combined Tule and Ranch System with automated irrigation. Today Aviña starts and stops irrigation at the Las Posadas vineyard from his computer, providing the vines with the right amount of water at the right time. This also allows him to irrigate at night when desired, reducing evaporative loss. In the process, they’ve cut water use, improved labor efficiency and fine-tuned the Las Posadas vineyard to produce the highest quality fruit.
Once the vines show visual symptoms of stress, the root cause has already taken hold. Decisions are reactionary. Tule shows us vine stress through water status considerably before the vines exhibit visual stress. This accelerates the feedback loop and allows us to tailor irrigation in real-time based on current conditions.
Chateau Montelena has 100 acres of estate vineyards broken into several blocks. Winemaker Matt Crafton had two favorite blocks on the estate where he installed Tule sensors to establish the timing and patterns of water stress that were leading to the desired quality of fruit. After a complete vintage, Chateau Montelena began applying this new knowledge to another two blocks that were consistently underperforming – experiencing both excessive vigor and delivering average fruit quality.
Using data from the high-performing vineyards, Crafton fed targets and parameters into the online system for how much stress they wanted to see over time, using this information to time irrigation and to refine the parameters of several growing seasons. The results have been dramatic: A former problem block now produces estate fruit every year and what was the least desriable vineyard block is now the the shining star. Crafton says, “This system has paid for itself twenty times over in terms of quality improvements, not to mention we significantly reduced our water use.”
Making the commitment to third party certification takes time and effort, but it is worth it to demonstrate our commitment to the community and to protect our watershed, our land and the air we breathe.