Revolutionizing Vineyard Irrigation

vineyard irrigation equipment at Sugarloaf Mountain vineyard

Tule Technologies equipment at Sugarloaf Mountain vineyard

We’re farmers, not politicians. So the fact that Atlas Vineyard Management is part of a revolution is pretty surprising. But sure enough, it’s true.

As of April we’ve signed onto a trial we believe will revolutionize vineyard irrigation. If we’re right and the technology works, it will revolutionize farming grapes, making wine and conserving water, too.

But let’s back up a bit.

For decades university scientists and extension advisors have been conducting elaborate calculations to estimate evapotranspiration (ET) in the vineyard—the amount of water lost to plant use and evaporation. Until now those wishing to calculate ET in the vineyard have had to use reference numbers from weather stations owned by the state Department of Water Resources. http://wwwcimis.water.ca.gov/cimis/infoEtoOverview.jsp While these figures are helpful, reference ET stations can be set in alfalfa fields or lots covered in grass—not grapevines.

As a post-doctoral researcher at UC Davis Tom Shapland worked with USDA scientist Andrew McElrone to simplify the measurement of ET. He created a model  —surface renewal technology—to measure the moisture in different layers of air, or eddy fluxes.

Based on Shapland’s model, Tule Technologies has built a sensor capable of measuring ET for a 10-acre site, coupled with a tower that catalogs the information and relays it to the people farming the land.

Using data from the sensor, we can know exactly how much water is needed to replace the current supply and meet our farming goals. No university calculations needed. No reference ET from the state. The answers are all there, simplified.

Francisco Araujo, Director of Quality Control and Technological Winegrowing Operations for Atlas, breaks it down: “All these devices we have used up until now—the pressure bombs, the sap-flow sensors—all of them were used for determining how much water the vines were using, but they had a problem. They were connected to only one or two vines next to each other, and from those two vines we had to extrapolate the data to a large area. With this new technology, these towers can cover up to 10 acres, so it is a huge, exponential change.”

vineyard irrigation equipment at Gap's Crown vineyard

Tule Technologies equipment at Gap’s Crown vineyard

Where does Atlas fit into this? Well, this past month we helped install the Tule Technologies system at two of the vineyards we farm: Sugarloaf and Gap’s Crown. During the next few weeks the AtlasVM Vit team will be analyzing the data these new systems collect, and we’ll be able to see how accurate (or not accurate) the nearest reference ET has been all along.

Once the information starts rolling in we’ll be working with our farming team in Oregon to install the Tule Technologies equipment at our new—and first—property: Willakia Vineyard, located in the Eola-Amity Hills. The technology will be the first of its kind in Oregon, much like the installation at Gap’s Crown was the first in Sonoma County.

Whether it’s in the Napa foothills or Oregon’s Willamette Valley, knowing the exact state of vineyard ET can tell us whether the vines are stressed, whether they need irrigation or whether they would benefit from a few days in the sun without any added water. Being able to fine-tune irrigation based on exact data is more than a game-changer, it’s a revolution.

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