By: SWE On: April 11, 2018 In: Projects

Client Profile

Alton Downs vineyard is located in the Awatere Valley, approximately 22 kilometres south of Blenheim, in the Marlborough region.

The approximately 75-hectare vineyard grows predominantly Sauvignon Blanc grapes, alongside 4 hectares of Pinot Noir – according to the most appropriate varietal match for the terroir within the parts of the vineyard.

The vineyard produced award-winning grapes in 2017, and the Vineyard Manager has been involved with 17 wine awards in his career to date. The client is extremely quality-focussed, with great attention to detail, and was keen to ensure the vineyard was able to operate at optimum efficiency.

Project Overview

Vineyard manager Duncan Cramp asked SWE to undertake a SmartAudit of the vineyard. Having recently come to manage the block, Duncan was keen to have professional insight into the set-up and the performance of the system, that would allow him foresight into potential issues and allow him to budget appropriately for repairs and/or improvements. Duncan was also aware that the application rate on the block was minimal, and so at times the system struggled to keep up with the demands of the operation. The system itself was also ten years old, and had not had professional review since installation, so it was considered timely to audit the block.


SWE performed a full SmartAudit service on the block. Our engineers measured the system performance, assessed the condition of all irrigation components and design, and evaluated them against specific performance criteria.

Originally the block had one river pump to service the whole 75 hectares, so when the pump failed, or performed under-par, the system struggled to keep up or catch-up, with the vineyard’s requirements. The system also had difficulty performing against forces of heat and evaporation even when the system was functioning at full capacity – struggling to meet the required application rate in competition against the sun and north-west wind.

The SWE designers therefore redesigned the system, installing an additional pump to feed the lower terrace, so the existing pump would only service the upper terrace.

We identified that the majority of irrigation zones were working either demonstrably under-pressure – or markedly over-pressure. Some pressures were higher than the structure of the dripline was designed to accommodate, causing excess wear and tear, blowouts and increased dripline repair requirements.

We also investigated the cause of the lower pressure zones. In one example, we were able to identify that UV damage was causing squirting drippers in places, which in turn was causing excess flow, and thereby affecting the pressure and harming the water efficiency. Furthermore, we identified that the mainline feeding one of the blocks was slightly undersized for its present requirements. We therefore redesigned the system to split the affected zone into two zones – effectively halving the flow through – meaning the flow rate was less, accomplishing increased pressure, and achieving industry standard uniformity and water efficiency.

The SWE team also serviced all the field valves (almost all of which were in a state requiring work). The diaphragms had started to deteriorate and valves, pilots etc also required attention or replacement.

We also installed new systems that allow for an enhanced level of monitoring and management as well as remote monitoring and accessibility.


The client was supplied with a full SmartAudit report which clearly outlined all system plans, components and specifications. The report outlined a comprehensive list of findings and recommendations – as well as detailing the ‘immediate fixes’ which were able to be implemented efficiently on the spot.

Following discussions with the client we jointly created a plan to implement important recommendations in the short-term, and plan ahead for future enhancements. The report also serves as a valuable reference document and benchmark for the client in the coming years.

As a result of the SmartAudit the system has been redesigned with a second pump to deliver water to the vineyard, enabling us to halve the system application time (from 24 hours to just 12 hours). Problems have been resolved by system maintenance and mitigated by adjusting pressures and zone modification. Remote monitoring also allows for real-time insights and decision-making for the client. The remote monitoring also enables remote assistance and service from SWE, which can help to reduce unnecessary call-outs, and also inform the service team about the nature of the problem – which, for example, may mean we can attend with foreknowledge of the problem (and potentially bring additional equipment or parts with us when we arrive).

The system runs significantly more efficiently, with field valves operating more reliably and regulating effectively. Components are now working under conditions which are within spec for their performance. The application rate is more uniform, and power and water efficiency has improved significantly.

What the Client Said

“The team at SWE have done a great job. I’m really pleased with the outcome, especially the system performance, and increased power and water efficiency.”

Duncan Cramp, Vineyard Manager, Alton Downs Vineyard