“The grapes need what the grapes need”

Rex Williams, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards

It’s a delicate balance to keep a vineyard irrigated. 

Rex explains, “We’re playing the game of giving the vines enough water without emptying the well. We know exactly where we are with Wellntel, in real-time.”  

Without enough water the character of the grapes and the wine will be compromised. But too much watering –– especially in a drought –– is a waste of resources that can be critical for areas that need the hydration. 

So the St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, a certified sustainable winery, closely monitors its water usage (in addition to emissions and other environmental factors) to improve both the viability of its own business as well as the Northern California region. 

“It’s part of our commitment to sustainability to be able to look back at the data and see what we’ve done and figure out how to do better next year,” said Rex Williams, the vineyard maintenance manager. 

Information from Wellntel helps Williams make long-term decisions in the region’s best interest, even if they need to adjust in the short term.  

“We have to change when the data tells us that groundwater is not recovering,” he said. “For instance, if we’re putting in 4 hours a week and we see the bottom drop out of that well, we will start reigning that back even if the vines need the water.” 

Wellntel helps Williams identify trends and understand why water levels are performing in certain ways. For example, one well that was traditionally high producing would suddenly and unexpectedly stop working. Normally, this might cause Williams to replace what he suspected to be a broken motor –– a lengthy and expensive process. 

However, by inspecting real-time Wellntell data, Williams identified the cause as a local municipal pump that was pulling water levels down in their own well. Having identified the cause saved Williams from making unnecessary replacements.  

“Without Wellntel we would have spent a ton of money pulling out the well thinking the motor was shot or something,” he said. “We were at least able to see what was going on and know that it wasn’t our pump and know it wasn’t our equipment.” 

Building a sustainable system 

Williams began using Wellntel during the historic 2012 – 2016 California drought that threatened the future of the vineyard and many others in the region. 

During that drought, Williams had to keep a close watch on the wells on his property. 

Unfortunately, the time-intensive process of manually checking water levels ––  driving to each well, using an air tank, pumping it up, measuring the wells, running the math and recording it in a spreadsheet –– took up to a half a day each week. That was time that could easily be better spent during a crisis. 

“It saves a bunch of labor not having to drive around to these wells and monitor them and record the results by hand,” he said. 

Specifically, Williams keeps a close watch on the Wellntel dashboard as they fill up an irrigation pond to know exactly what the well can produce, without overtaxing the system. Through this data, he was able to create an efficient system –– all while monitoring the well remotely through Wellntel. 

“We were running the pump for 24 hours,” he said. “Then we’d let it sit until 12, just to make sure that the well recovered.”

Without Wellntel, Williams would not have had access to that level of water information, without the labor of taking those measurements himself every 24 hours.  

“The fact of being able to watch the well levels and recovery times in real time is huge. [Wellntel’s dashboard] “allows us to manage these wells and our water usage. That in a nutshell is an attraction and just being able to watch your water go away and then come back in real time and say, yes we can live another day.” 

Planning for the future 

In a state that typically gets no rain between June and October, budgeting for every drop of water is critical for agriculture. That’s what Wellntel ultimately provides businesses like St. Francis Winery and Vineyards.  

“When we started this year,” Williams said, “I was already pacing and rubbing my hands together wondering what the hell we were going to do.” 

Williams –– along with everyone else in the region –– is hoping for an October rain that produces run-off. In the meantime, he will continue water stewardship informed by the latest Wellntel data. 

As he’s talking about the future, Williams pulled up the Wellntel dashboard to look at the real-time statistics of the property. 

“Right now this well is recovering, so I’m not that freaked out,” he said. “The education that Wellntel has given us has been outstanding.”