Save Water, Make Better Wine

It can take as many as twenty-nine gallons of water to produce a single glass of cabernet. Oakland-based Fruition Sciences is out to change that and produce a better wine while they’re at it.

Ron Nicholsen of Kelham Vineyards may have had some doubts at first. Like many of his fellow winemakers in California, custom has prevailedirrigating too early was always better than irrigating too late. To make a great wine, you need great grapes and the risk of overstressing the grapes by watering too little or too late is not one that many winemakers cared to take. As a consequence, water overuse is commonplace. 

With the help of Fruition Sciences, Ron like many dozens of winemakers are challenging these notions by demonstrating that data-driven water management can not only help reduce water use, but also boost vineyard performance. In the face of California’s ongoing drought and mounting pressure to use water more efficiently, the impact is far-reaching. Since adopting Fruition’s technology, Ron has saved 1 million gallons of water over his 35-acre vineyard in one single year while boosting his yield. “And the wine tastes even better,” Ron added. 

Fruition Sciences, an Imagine H2O competition winner and accelerator participant, is using data and analytical tools to help winemakers make smarter decisions. By attaching sensors directly to the vines, Fruition is able to monitor and collect real-time data on a range of important indicators that can collectively inform more efficient irrigation practices, including vine water use, weather and temperature and even the berry’s sugar or color content. Powered by solar, the receivers transmit data from the vineyard to a cloud platform that then delivers actionable insights for the winemaker. When and how much should I irrigate my vines? How will changes in my water use and weather patterns affect fruit size and composition? When is the ideal harvest date? Fruition helps winemakers answer these questions by introducing science to vineyard management.

The impact of monitoring is profound. With support from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Fruition conducted an experiment across six wineries. Conditions were carefully controlled to compare traditional irrigation practices with sites that had deployed Fruition’s technology. Fruition’s vines used 65% less water. Yield and quality were comparable. In fact, some of the non-Fruition sites experienced severe dehydration—evidence that irrigation was triggered too early prior to harvest. Fruition has gone on to deliver these dramatic water savings across hundreds of new vineyards.

While Ron was motivated by the need to sustain quality and productivity, the environmental impact during a period of heightened water shortage is not lost on him. “It is great to save water, understand the plant, respect the grapes and be making even better wines. Clearly this is the future of farming.”

Since winning Imagine H2O’s innovation competition in 2008, Fruition’s ambitions have not waned. “A lot of water can be saved in California and the rest of the world by simply monitoring plant needs,” Sebastien Payen says, who along with Thibaut Scholasch founded the company in 2007. Fruition’s long-term mission is to replicate these results in more vineyards, more wine-producing regions and more crops. Stay tuned!