Growing & Winemaking


Water conservation by short, frequent irrigations

February 2009
by Bill Nachbaur, Alegria Vineyard
Algeria Vineyard
Bill Nachbaur inspects the irrigation system at Alegría Vineyards in Sonoma County.

We use drip irrigation, which meters out a limited amount of water to each vine, so we were already in conservation mode when the State Water Resources Control Board last year mandated that Sonoma County reduce water use by 15% to be sure there was sufficient water in Lake Mendocino to support the fall Chinook salmon run in the Russian River. As part of the Sonoma County Water Agency's effort to reduce water consumption in the county by all users, the agency provided grower education at monthly Integrated Pest Management meetings held by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. Suggested practices included irrigating more frequently but for shorter intervals to ensure water did not percolate below the root zone.

I have always delayed the start of irrigation until the vines show signs that they are using up the rainwater stored in the soil during the winter months. I monitor shoot growth and wait until the shoot tips are no longer actively growing before beginning to irrigate (that typically occurs in July). The vines do fine on accumulated rainwater up until that time. Traditionally I irrigated my vineyard during the summer months once per week for eight to 10 hours (8 to 10 gallons/vine/week). In response to the advice from the water agency and the grape commission, I changed the irrigation schedule in 2008 to 3 gallons every three days. This resulted in a savings of about 10% in water use and pumping costs. I have not observed any changes in vine health as a result of the reduced irrigation. I will be assessing the quality of the fruit in wines produced this harvest

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