Wines & Vines Home
Welcome Guest

Pinpointing Vineyard Irrigation

Oregon grapegrowers install evapotranspiration monitor, eliminate guesswork

by Peter Mitham
Vineyard equipment developed by Tule Technologies (seen here at Sugarloaf Mountain) is being installed at Willakia vineyard in Oregon to measure moisture being used.
Amity, Ore.—With below-average rainfall forecast for much of the western United States, Northwest grapegrowers will be keeping close tabs on vines this season to ensure they’re getting the water they need.

Typically, that’s done through methods ranging from visual monitoring to pressure bombs that extrapolate evapotranspiration data from bellwether vines across an entire vineyard.

Various services also exist that allow growers to estimate evapotranspiration rates for their particular locations based on general meteorological data.

But this Friday, Atlas Vineyard Management Inc. will install a system at Willakia vineyard east of Amity that measures the local vineyard climate, giving real-time local data to determine the needs of vines across a 10-acre block.

Developed by Tule Technologies Inc. of California, the system employs surface renewal analysis to measure moisture levels in layers of air above the vineyard, and matches that data with models of evapotranspiration rates prepared by USDA scientist Andrew McElrone and post-doctoral researcher Tom Shapland from the University of California, Davis.

The result is a more accurate picture of how vines are using water.

How it works
“To measure how much water the vines are using, surface renewal quantifies how much heat and water vapor the wind carries away from a 2- to 5-acre vineyard block,” Shapland explained in an article for Practical Winery & Vineyard earlier this year.

Tule’s system measures the moisture in different layers of air, or eddy fluxes, and extrapolates that across a 10-acre site to provide a more accurate read of local conditions than viticulturists previously enjoyed.

“Most of these devices are just connected to one or two vines,” explained Francisco Araujo, director of quality control and technical winegrowing operations for Atlas. “With one instrument we’re covering an exponentially larger area. We’re not extrapolating data from one or two vines, we’re measuring it over a large surface.”

Moreover, the local readings mean that growers aren’t relying on estimate-based conditions in a reference field that may be growing another crop such as alfalfa.

“We’re measuring directly the vineyard evapotranspiration as opposed to a reference evapotranspiration,” Araujo told Wines & Vines.

Atlas is piloting the system at vineyards in Napa and the Petaluma Gap, and the installation at Willakia (acquired earlier this year by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) will be its third site and first in Oregon.

While it’s still too early to know how usage has changed, Araujo said there’s a lot less guesstimating going on with respect to irrigation needs.

“We’re seeing full canopy growth, and our growth targets have been met,” he said. “We don’t have that urgency to irrigate. We would otherwise be guessing, ‘Hey, it’s been a dry winter, what’s going on?’ So it’s really helping and giving us more information so we can decide.”

That information means one more tool in the kit of growers, who increasingly receive encouragement from extension workers to control water and regularly told of new methods to reduce and eliminate water use.

Implications afield
Okanagan growers attending the British Columbia Wine Grape Council meeting last year heard Mark Battany, an advisor to growers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties with the University of California Cooperative Extension, explain how better climate information could help wean growers off sprinkler systems for frost control in favor of wind machines or better vineyard design.

While the impetus to manage water wisely is high in California, drier conditions this year promise to put water on everyone’s minds.

The latest report from Greg Jones, director of Southern Oregon University’s Division of Business, Communication, and the Environment in Ashland, notes that the accumulation of growing degree-days across the state through the end of May is up 26% to 68% above the normal for the period 1981-2010.

Meanwhile, precipitation is down by more than 20%.

The prospect of El Niño conditions emerging later this year promises drier, warmer conditions for the Pacific Northwest.

Posted on 06.16.2014 - 09:48:41 PST
As a past vineyard worker who has spent countless hours using a pressure bomb in the hottest part of the summer, this technology is very welcome! It sounds like it provides a much more accurate "picture" of vine water status too.

Wines & Vines Home
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
Wine Industry Metrics
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
August 2015 $608 million
$8,178 million
August 2014 $568 million $7,729 million
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
August 2015 $80 million
$1,908 million
August 2014 $78 million $1,686 million
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
August 2015 261
August 2014 218 224
MORE » Released on 09.15.2015
Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
Download full report »


Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
Search the PWV archive »

  • October 3-11
    Lake Chelan Crush Festival
  • October 9-12
    Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest
  • October 13-16
  • November 3-6
  • MORE »

Article: Crowd Funds 10,000 Cultivars »
Thanks for interviewing the academic breeders. They would love to be able to raise $167K...
Reader: New York Viticulture
Article: Nielsen Unpacks Package Design »
Okay, I'll state the obvious (to anyone with CPG experience) - the Wine Biz is...
Reader: Joel Miller
Article: Nielsen Unpacks Package Design »
Very interesting reading. Certainly agree with the more indirect approach of evaluating the extent to...
Reader: Roger Brooks
Article: Experimental Solution to Pierce's Disease »
Congratulations to the team! It is amazing what can be done with biological controls. Keep...
Reader: Bruce Coulthard
Article: The Spiciest Wines You Have Ever Tasted »
There are some wines from New Mexico are infused with pepper flavors. Also, The Wine...
Reader: Guest

2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
Wines & Vines Magazine
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
Latest Job Listings
 Accounts Payable Coord...
 Saint Helena, CA
 Hospitality Assistant
 St. Helena, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Experienced Retail Win...
 Dallas, TX
Sales and Marketing
 International Sourcing...
 Paris, NA
 Retail Associate
 Chicago, IL
Sales and Marketing
 Wine Adviser
 Norwalk, CT
Sales and Marketing
 On-Premise Sales Rep R...
 Raleigh, NC
Sales and Marketing
 Hospitality/Tasting Ro...
 Santa Rosa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Brand Ambassador - Pt ...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Sales Admin
 Lower Westchester County, NY
General Administration and
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:

Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.