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Clos de la Tech's Wireless Weather Monitoring

Posted by CM Support
May 1, 2013 | Keywords: viticulture  weather monitoring  wine  wireless  

Rex Geitner, Clos de la Tech VP of Winegrowing, starts every day of the growing season at 5:30 a.m. by logging into the winery’s remote weather monitoring system. He can see the current climate in the vineyard, up to the latest 15 minutes, from his home near Half Moon Bay before he even winds up the road to the winery. The decisions he makes based on that data and the 15-day weather forecast can make or break a year’s harvest.

“The weather monitoring technology we use at Clos de la Tech is an integral decision-making tool on numerous fronts, and I would not want to operate without it,” says Geitner, who has not always had access to this sophisticated technology during his 40-year winemaking career. “I’m very fortunate that T.J. Rodgers is the kind of winemaker who places great emphasis on data-driven decision making, because it allows us to be far smarter about how we grow.”

The lynchpin of the monitoring system is a solar-powered main station on the top of the windy ridge at Clos de la Tech’s largest vineyard, Domaine Lois Louise, at 1,700 feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The station, mounted on a pole rising above the trellised vines, collects information about leaf wetness, humidity, temperature, solar radiation, wind speed, wind direction and rainfall.

About one hundred feet to the south is another important component of the monitoring system, a C-Probe (C=Capacitance) moisture monitor that measures the moisture levels at four points below the surface—12, 20, 28, and 36 inches.

Geitner extracts the C-Probe carefully from a plastic tube embedded in the soil. It looks like a long plastic pipe with four copper bands around it 8 inches apart. Each ring senses moisture levels in the adjacent soil within a radius of 9 inches. The device transmits data wirelessly to the main weather station and from there to a web-based monitoring system that charts and graphs the results.

Making Decisions

Geitner logs into the monitoring software on his laptop in the vineyard’s temporary office and shows the valleys and peaks of moisture levels throughout the year, with irrigation causing spikes and summer’s heat bringing dips.

The 20- and 28-inch levels are the most important and see the greatest variability, Geitner says, because they are at the level of the grapes’ thirsty roots. Pinot noir grapes do not require tremendous amounts of water, but Geitner and the vineyard staff are careful not to let the soil dry out completely. This system lets them peek beneath the surface at any time, from anywhere.

“What I see in the moisture levels tells us how we need to irrigate. What I see in leaf moisture, current weather conditions and forecasted weather tells me, based on computer models, what kind of disease pressure the vines are under, and thus what disease prevention materials we need to apply,” says Geitner. “In the end, the amount of data we can gather allows us to be far more precise in how much water and materials we apply, saving considerable amounts of each.”

Clos de la Tech is finalizing development of another 25 acres of vineyard in an area called Phase V, which is about 500 feet higher than the ridgeline of the existing vineyard and 1,000 feet higher than the lowest existing plantings. Domaine Lois Louise has some of the steepest slopes of any pinot noir vineyard we’ve seen, and the new planting at the higher elevation will be steeper than any of the vineyards plantings to date.

The microclimate at that higher elevation level will be a bit different from the lower elevations, sufficiently different that Geitner expects to add an additional station to bring even more data into his morning weather monitoring routine.

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