As American’s very first wine-producing region, New Mexico has been at the core of this country’s grape culture since Spaniards planted the first vinifera vines there in 1629. The original vinifera grapes – also known as “wine grapes” – were grown in the San Antonio area due to its mild climate, dry growing seasons, and temperate winters.
While vinifera flourishes in southern New Mexico, it hasn’t fared as well in the northern part of the state. The grape’s susceptibility to frost injury, which can occur in the late fall, winter, and early spring, poses a huge challenge for vineyards in northern New Mexico.
Abiquiu-based Hacienda Gracias Vineyards is a case in point. Located roughly 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the vineyard experiences vine-killing weather several times a year. Despite the frost risk, Hacienda Gracias, which has just begun its second planting season, is committed to growing high-quality vinifera. “We are pushing the envelope in trying to grow vinifera here in northern New Mexico,” says Michael Trupiano, owner of Hacienda Gracias. “Many vineyards in our part of the state plant with French-American hybrids, which are basically a cross between American and French Grapes and are considerably hardier than vinifera. These hybrids are perhaps the closest thing to vinefera in terms of flavor profile, but they are not true vinifera. If we can make it through the various frost cycles, I believe we can produce fruit that will lead to excellent wines in the future.”
To increase his chances for success, Trupiano chose to plant with Pinot Noir, a vinefera that has a very short growing season, and tends to grow well in areas such as Abiquiu, which experience warmer days and cooler nights.
“We knew of a number of successful Pinor Noir vineyards in nearby Albuquerque, and realized that we could also be successful if we applied the right viticulture practices.”
Trupiano, who wears a variety of hats at Hacienda including viticulturalist, organics specialist, weeder, and plumber, recently installed a HOBO® Weather Station with a SolarStream® satellite-based wireless transceiver in order to become more proactive about frost monitoring and prevent damage to the vines.
The battery-operated 15-channel HOBO Weather Station is configured to measure and record air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. Each “smart sensor” plugs directly into the weather station and is automatically recognized without complicated wiring, programming, or calibration requirements.
The solar-powered transceiver, manufactured by Upwards Innovations, Inc., features an Internet-based software platform that allows Trupiano to monitor conditions at his vineyard on a web browser, and sends alarm messages via email and cell phone text messaging when it gets close to freezing. The system transmits signals through the Orbcomm® satellite network, where it is then routed to a secure online data center, email address, and cell phone.
Prior to installing the equipment, Trupiano monitored climate using a combination of Internet weather services and a nearby U.S. Geological Survey weather station. While these sources provided reliable regional weather data, Trupiano soon realized that more accurate, site-specific data would be required in order to protect his crops.
Initially, a weather station with a GPRS cellular modem-based system was set up on the site. However, based on the vineyard’s remote location, the system wasn’t able to generate a reliable signal.
“Since my primary application for remote monitoring is real-time frost alerting, reliability was paramount,” says Trupiano. “I realized to get the reliability we needed, we had to go with a satellite-based solution.”
The new system provides Trupiano with the site-specific climate data he needs. It is powered by internal and external solar panels, and is configured to upload data every 25 minutes throughout the day. It provides real-time notification of air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. SolarStream also enables Trupiano to remotely handle various weather station management tasks, such as adjusting sample rates and performing diagnostics to ensure that the weather sensors are working properly.
“Having real-time data helps me determine when I should start my frost-protection mechanisms,” explains Trupiano. “For frost protection, we have roughly 1,800 low-pressure sprinkler heads sitting above the vines that we turn on when temperatures get down to around 32°F. We basically let the water run until the temperature comes back up above freezing.”
He adds, “Without the frost alarms provided through the equipment, it is highly likely that I could lose some or all of a season’s crop. This would clearly be an economic problem for us. In the future, we hope to be able to use the data with predictive software to analyze for insects and disease onset in the vineyard.”
Hacienda Gracias Vineyards is carrying on a centuries-old tradition in the Southwestern United States, only now with state-of-the art technology. The network of satellites overhead is helping ensure the success of the vineyard, where the vinifera grape is flourishing.
For more information about weather stations, please contact Onset Computer Corporation at 1-800-LOGGERS, or visit www.onsetcomp.com.