Technology in wine

Technology has changed the wine industry but how?

Technology and digitization of the industry will be one of the hottest wine trends for this year. The role of technology in wine is much more encompassing than we think – it goes well beyond QR codes and mobile apps and is steadily transforming the industry through various smart innovations, some of which are already in place.

But the wine world is no stranger to innovation. From the first Cistercian monks who studied the effect of geography and microclimates on their vineyards and adjusted their winemaking practices accordingly, to smart developments in bottling and storage that have improved the shelf-life of wine, science and technology have always been the foundation of fine winemaking.  Let’s look at some prominent ways in which technology has been changing the wine world:

Technology in the vineyard

One of the biggest transformations due to technology is in the field of agriculture. Science-driven irrigation management has made farms more efficient. Wineries are using drones, satellite imaging, sensors, and machine-learning models to promote vine growth and healthy output. For example, ground sensors can help with soil management and water level. Drones mounted with cameras can take detailed pictures to check for signs of drought or disease. Burgundy winemakers have been using high-tech shield systems to protect crops against hailstorms for years now.

Sustainability in winemaking

Access to modern technology has increased the adoption of sustainable practices among winemakers. Many are embracing sustainable cultivation methods like organic, regenerative, or biodynamic farming. Others are switching to renewable energy sources for electricity, vehicles, and water use. Since about 40-50% of the carbon footprint of wine is due to the packaging and transport of glass bottles, boxed wine and canned wine have been recent innovations aimed towards a low-carbon future, and their popularity is growing globally.

New flavours and hybrid

While we have had hybrid varietals since ancient times (for example, Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc), technology has made it possible for scientists and cultivators to experiment with and develop new hybrid grape varieties that are disease-resistant, resilient to climate change, and also yield good quality wine. Likewise, blended vintages have caught on, thanks to new thinking in winemaking.

A few years ago, France’s traditional Bordeaux region proposed adding seven such new varieties to its oeuvre, specifically chosen for their ability to adapt to global warming conditions. Six of these were approved by INAO – four reds and two whites.

Improved customer experience

Enhanced user experience and digital marketing are shaping the modern wine market. Technology has busted open the direct-to-customer (DTC) sales channel, which is showing healthy double-digit growth year-over-year. Customers can now sign up for wine subscriptions online, join virtual wine clubs and communities, trade collector’s bottles and invest in fine wine over the internet, follow their favourite wineries and bars on social media, and enjoy shared experiences like wine tastings from the comfort of their homes, all thanks to modern technology in wine.

Smartphone apps have brought the world of wine to the fingertips of customers. You can now scan a QR code on a label or simply click a photo of the wine bottle on an app like Vivino to get detailed information on it, including reviews, prices, and pairing suggestions. Many of these innovations, boosted by the pandemic and its consequences, are now shaping the future of the industry.

Of the major digital tech trends to expect shortly, these are a few we are watching out for with keen interest:   

Smart Vineyards – the concept of smart vineyards encompasses many things, but the role of AI and robotics in vineyard cultivation will be key. Smart machines in the winery will be able to improve crop management, monitor quality processes, and synthesize comprehensive wine reviews. Robotic systems will be able to take over tasks like fertilizing, harvesting, and inventory control. Remoting imaging tech like LIDAR will allow for 3D mapping of vineyards. At Château Clerc Milon in Bordeaux, for example, a vineyard robot prototype has been successfully tested to carry out cultivation and weeding tasks.

Blockchain and NFTs – We expect blockchain technology will soon revolutionise wine distribution systems by improving the traceability of wine and enabling smart contracts. Using grids of encrypted information, blockchain can help reduce wine fraud and instances of counterfeit wine, allowing sellers and buyers to accurately trace the movement of a wine bottle. A fine wine brand protection service has already developed a digital ledger-based labelling system to ensure the tamper-proof authenticity of wines.

Wine NFTs are already here, with French winemaker Château Darius selling digital bottles of its vintages since last year.

E-labels and immersive packaging – QR codes have made reams of information readily accessible. The next upgrade is electronic labels that will also improve transparency and traceability while providing detailed information. Once augmented reality (AR) becomes part of the process, e-labels will act as the gateway to an entire experience for the customer. Wine packaging specialists are already developing scannable wine foils that come alive with animation and text to create a storytelling experience through tech.

Wine ageing, cooling, and storing – Ageing is a crucial step in the production of wine. As futuristic as it sounds, technologists are already experimenting with space-ageing and underwater ageing, which can cut down on ageing time while preserving (and in some cases, improving) the flavours and quality of the wine. Reverse microwave technology is being tapped to develop smart cooling devices that can chill and serve wine and other beverages at optimal temperatures with minimum intervention. Robotics are also being employed to create smart warehouses for wine storage that will reduce costs and improve efficiency.

The wine industry has traditionally been a world of history, legacy, time-honoured practices, and the slow passage of the years. But the digital era is shaping a tech-first future and the wine world is starting to keep pace. Many more tech innovations are on the way – think drone deliveries, edible wine bottles, tasting experiences in virtual reality, and AI-powered virtual sommeliers – and exciting times lie ahead!


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