Yeasty and refreshing as a Riesling or unfiltered and fruity as a Pinot Noir, quality wine has always depended on the careful selection of grapes. However, compared with the past, when winemakers had to do everything by hand, vintners can now rely on technological innovations that have birthed a new era in the world of wine production. From drones and AI-powered platforms to solar panels and wind turbines, here are some ingenious methods and trends in winemaking and wine technology.
Technology with AI Integration Is the Way Forward
Technological innovation and artificial intelligence have reached the wine industry. Far from a toy drone, flying robots are sophisticated, stable devices, buzzing like bees as they hover above vines. When combined with AI algorithms, multispectral photography can provide valuable insights into what is happening in the vineyard while also improving wine taste. The abundance of data that drones produce can be daunting for farmers and vineyard owners.
María José Jerez, the sales manager of the Spanish winery Bodegas Ayuso, is well aware of the value drones can deliver. “Our winery is almost fully automated,” she said. Bodegas Ayuso, headquartered in La Mancha, one of the world’s largest winemaking regions, started integrating high-tech in their vineyards in 2021. That year, they successfully tried out drone flights on a test vineyard, combining them with a local weather station, ground sensors, and satellite imagery. Bodegas Ayuso then fed all that data into an artificial intelligence platform, which integrated all the sources and processed massive data volumes.
To put it into perspective, a single multispectral drone flight could collect hundreds of gigabytes of data. After analysing all that data, the system delivered diagnostics in real-time. And that’s what’s so great about drone pictures combined with AI; they let wineries act quickly before irrigation stress, pests, or diseases can ruin the crop.
Needless to say, these high-tech drones come at a price, but they save vineyards tons of money. Manoj Karkee, an associate professor at WSU’s Agricultural Automation and Robotics Lab, told Fruit Grower’s News: “Bird damage to crops has always been a problem.”
Argentine wineries have already benefited from drones keeping birds at bay. Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata Farm explained: “We have eliminated all crop loss related to hungry parrots.”
Aleksandr Kretov Embraces Digital Advancements
The integration of digitisation and automation in grape management and control, along with sophisticated tracking programs, drones, and advanced monitoring devices, marks a significant shift in today’s winemaking industry. It’s universally recognised within the business that these innovations are set to revolutionise traditional winemaking practices, enhancing precision, efficiency, and overall quality, which will be a delight to consumers.
Kretov Aleksandr is an experienced entrepreneur and a shareholder at the Ariant Group, of which the Kuban-Vino winery in the Krasnodar region is part. He’s proud of the fact that these days the whole of the wine production within the group is fully digitised and automated. Says Aleksandr: “We digitise grape management and control, from collection to processing, by developing tracking programs for each equipment location, this includes harvesters and transport vehicles. Each vehicle uses pre-programmed cards to swiftly record grape details such as variety, harvest location, and quantity. The system also ensures real-time coordination of harvesting orders and schedules for efficient movement to the collection site.”
Adds Aleksandr Kretov: “We employ drones to monitor grape ripening and vineyard diseases. For environmental control, we use satellite monitoring devices, weather stations, temperature and soil moisture sensors. All data is integrated into the monitoring system, generating reports and graphs to assess viticulture conditions and make informed decisions for improvement.”
Current Trends in Winemaking
Winemaking may have existed for ages, but many oenophiles now see climate change as a problem that threatens the wine industry’s future viability in a number of locations. Thus, winemakers and grape producers have adopted new technologies to battle the ever-changing climate.
AI-powered robots are said to be crucial tools for mitigating the impacts of drought, erratically changing temperatures and varying harvest seasons. These machines can collect and anticipate data better than any human, and they could prove to be the wine industry’s strongest defence against the climate of tomorrow.
Laura Mornet, who is responsible for viticulture development and research at Rémy Martin, comments: “With the limitation of plot inputs, climate change and climatic accidents such as hail and frost, winegrowers need to be more responsive and intervene more quickly.”
Robots are used for weeding underneath the soil, reducing competition for water and nitrogen supply. The goal is to achieve consistency in every plot and row, which is essential for healthy wine grapes and the conservation of water. Laura adds that robots deliver solutions to human challenges and improve the regularity of work on the field. “We also use drones with captors to detect diseases and are able to heal them with the highest precision,” she adds.
Reducing manual labour is badly needed in other parts of the world, too. In California, where grapes are valued at almost $6 billion per year, making up the third-largest crop in the region, grape-picking robots are used to address labour shortages.
The Use of Solar Power in Germany
The Weingut Braunewell, a winery based in Essenheim near Mainz, has recently started to use solar-powered electricity and recycled air for floor heating and temperature control. A cistern collects rainwater and utilises it to clean barrels and tanks.
Say the Braunewell brothers: “We aim to make wine that expresses the region’s unique winegrowing climate and the best of the estate’s vineyards.” Ideally situated, the area in West Germany boasts fertile soil that’s perfect for vineyards and orchards. Framed by mountains on three sides, the rolling hills are protected from the northern winds. Once a seabed, its mixed soil is a privilege for local winemakers who can produce blockbuster wines like Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.
A 20-minute car-drive northwest of the family-run Braunewell winery is another place where the future is taking shape. In Ingelheim am Rhein, the J. Neus winery chooses grape varietals that can accommodate fluctuating and higher temperatures winemakers are convinced will happen in the future. The owners have also upgraded their winery by improving their water management.
Emerging areas ideal for winemaking, new wine style trends, and global warming are continuously disrupting the traditional wine industry and, as such, it’s little surprise that leading winemakers have turned to wind power.
How California Winemakers Reduce Their Electricity Costs
One of the most prestigious wine producers in the world, Scheid Family Wines, is based in Greenfield, California. It’s an area where the dry, medium, or full-bodied Chardonnay thrives, fascinating oenophiles with flavours from apple and lemon to pineapple and papaya. Unsurprisingly, a spokesperson for the Scheid Family comments: “Being passionate about Chardonnay, we power our winery and bottling operation with a 1.85-megawatt turbine system.”
Thanks to the blades of their wind turbines reaching a height of 120 metres above the vineyards, the winery has managed to cut down massively on electricity. This system, which doesn’t release air or water-polluting emissions, does well in the Greenfield area where the mornings are shrouded in mist and the wind moans in the afternoons.
These types of conditions also exist in other corners of the globe, fostering even fruitier Pinot Noir and innovations that have ushered in a new era in the world of wine.
As more and more winemakers embrace all of these digital advancements, the industry is fast heading towards heightened productivity, sustainability, and innovation, solidifying its position in the modern world of viticulture. All indications are that by fully embracing these technologies it will be strengthening its commitment to staying at the forefront of progress, ensuring a promising future for winemaking the world over.