Harnessing Weather Data to Advance Vineyard Management

As the climate changes, wine growing regions are already noticing that local weather is harder to predict and often more extreme. A combination of modern sensors and data analytics is part of the solution.

8/13/20233 min read

a painting of a landscape with a view of a storm and vineyard
a painting of a landscape with a view of a storm and vineyard

As climate change accelerates and weather patterns grow increasingly unpredictable, precision viticulture leveraging detailed meteorological data is becoming critical for quality wine grape production. Sophisticated connected weather stations equipped with an array of sensors are being adopted by forward-thinking vineyards worldwide to collect hyper-local real-time microclimate insights across soil, canopy and fruit environments.

By gathering granular analytics on solar radiation, humidity, wind, precipitation and more, these systems allow grape growers to customize vine care with pinpoint accuracy based on current vine needs and upcoming weather events. State-of-the-art weather networks grant the ability to shift strategies in sync with intra-seasonal weather fluctuations for optimized crop development, water-use efficiency, and flavor outcomes.

For example, Davis Instruments' Vantage Pro2 weather station integrates anemometers for wind speed, pyranometers to quantify solar energy, thermometers across multiple heights, hygrometers, and self-emptying tipping rain buckets. This compact station can track over 25 distinct climatic metrics and calculate derived indices like evapotranspiration and dewpoint. It transmits data wirelessly to the vineyard's computer network. Supplemental soil probes read moisture and temperature at various underground depths.

The company VineView takes a more vine centered approach with its network, providing thermal data through non-invasive detection of temperature differences within one field of vines. Monitoring these differences through the app allows vineyard managers to detect irrigation issues, disease presence, and degrading plant health earlier than ever before. And in most of these cases, early action means saved money and better wine.

Likewise, tracking thermal patterns over time can reveal changes in vine vigor that suggest certain rootstocks or grape varieties are better suited to certain field conditions. Lower temperature variability indicates healthier, more uniform vines. This data empowers planting decisions for replacement vines or new blocks, selecting materials proven capable of delivering consistent ripeness. As climate change accelerates, vineyards able to leverage thermal imaging for insight into microclimate needs and plant health will have an advantage in adapting to maintain quality and yields.

Let’s use California as an example of how weather data can directly impact a bottle of wine. Napa has had some very hot summers and falls in recent years, and one of the solutions to protect grapes is to use black shades that absorb heat, preventing clusters from reaching high temperatures. But these shades carry a large risk. If the black material touches the canopy, the high heat kills leaves after very short contact. So what if we had real data that allowed us to selectively apply shades to only the needed areas? Using specialized sensors to provide hyperlocal real-time weather analytics can allow a vineyard manager to always know which areas are more exposed to extreme temperatures. This empowers them to apply shades only when necessary, reducing the risk of improper application that will damage the vine canopy.

The value of high-resolution weather data is only enhanced by vineyards' promoting the use of smartphone apps among employees. Apps like VineView and VineForecast allow anytime access to metrics, forecasts, warnings, and aerial visualizations to inform management decisions. This technology integration provides on-demand climate insights directly to workers doing tasks like spraying, pruning, or harvesting so they can make realtime, in field adjustments as conditions dictate.

While up-front costs can be significant, over the long term this equipment pays for itself through enabling significant water conservation, well-timed fruit protection, and risk mitigation. Weather analytics allow grape growers to target interventions precisely when they matter most for vine needs, fruit development, and wine character, reaping both environmental and quality rewards from the investment. As climate volatility increases, precision weather data may shift from cutting-edge to standard necessity for all vineyards pursuing sustainability.

Note: I have not professionally used the apps/companies listed in this article. I only found them to be innovative examples pushing the boundaries of what's possible in the vineyard.