Getting irrigation right is an essential part of any vineyard operation, but not only because water is crucial to growing grapes: it’s also crucial to optimised soil microbiology, according to De Bortoli viticulturist Rob Sutherland, who has just overseen the installation of a Davey Monsoon IQ pump controller at the company’s Yarra Valley Estate.
At 600 acres of vineyard, De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley Estate is twice the size of the next largest vineyard holding in the region. Conditions in the area are incredibly variable, from frosts at minus 2 or 3 degrees at one end of the season to scorching days of up to 42 degrees.
There’s an enormous amount of variability to manage across topography, orientation and temperature. Davey’s Monsoon IQ with remote monitoring makes it easier for Rob to set the exact irrigation specs he needs given the weather and field conditions, and it also allows him to carefully manage water levels to help improve soil microbiology.
“We’re very interested in soil microbiology. It’s a real focus for us at the Yarra Valley vineyard in particular,” Rob says.
“When you run a vineyard you’re using bacteria, fungi and protozoa to consume each other and create changes in the soil to fertilise the vines. As part of our operation we try and make a fungal dominated compost that replicates the conditions where vines would naturally grow in a forest. We are basically trying to create a fungal soil without the trees. Those roots of the vines then trade nutrients and carbohydrates with the organisms to grow healthier and make better wine.
“There are a couple of things that those organisms like when they are living in the soil: air and water. So we have machines and systems that try and reduce compaction in the soil to maximise air and then we use irrigation to keep those organisms active in the soil for longer.”
It’s quite a dynamic phase in the Yarra Valley, and Rob is enthusiastic about the future.
“De Bortoli is currently redeveloping many of its vineyard sites across the Yarra Valley. For me as a viticulturalist it’s a really exciting period, as we implement changes to deliver better results,” he says.
One of those changes is the incorporation of the Davey Monsoon IQ system with an existing pump set on their 150-acre Abbey Vineyard.
“This Davey pump controller upgrade is perfect to manage the water demands of new and old vineyards simultaneously,” Rob says.
“It allows us to experiment with new row configurations that increase the kilometres of vine row per hectare by 60%.”
The Davey Monsoon IQ adapts to the increased irrigation demand seamlessly adjusting pressure and flow rates for each irrigation station and therefore optimising energy consumption.
The controller uses a modem connection to communicate to the cloud, where data is stored for easy access from any device by logging into Davey’s customer portal.
“Knowing we get feedback from the system helps me sleep better at night, because I know if something goes wrong, then I can fix it and prevent crop damage from happening,” Rob says.