Is data the new ingredient for your refined glass of red wine?

Silicon valley, home of the largest tech-corporations, an entire startup ecosystem and where innovation does not seem to have limits. But what if you are the ‘lucky’ one to own a successful startup and decide to sell it resulting in let’s say 20 million dollars on your account – what to do then?

Then you start your own winery just 100 miles north in one of the world’s premier wine regions. Of course being a techie you’re not just going to produce the best wine the old-fashioned way, you incorporate data, because that’s what all companies do nowadays right?

Examples of stories like these are Palmaz winery and Vineyard 29, both data-driven wineries that have proven to produce good quality Cabernet-Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines (Jon Fine, 2011). Bandages with sensors incorporated are attached to the vines in order to keep track of how much water the vines take in. This is send to a computer and can be analyzed to establish a perfect water regime for the vines. Lately the wineries have even been experimenting with sensors attached to specific grapes that can measure the level of water and acidity.

Fruition’ Sciences is one of the first tech-startups that delivers a complete solution for wineries that want to start with a data-driven approach (Julie Bort & Kevin McLauglin, 2013).Their sensors apply heat to the vine stem and measure the temperature before and after applying the heat to figure out how much water is in the plant. The sensors are solar powered and are able to directly send this information to a server.

Although this data-driven approach seems to be a big step forward there are a lot more variables at work in the process of producing wine. It may not be the way to make the perfect wine but it can be a way to enhance the wine’s quality.
I can’t say too much about the taste of a good glass of wine but I can imagine this data-driven approach may change the game of wineries in the future. Being able to monitor exactly how your precious grape is developing and consequently produce high-quality wine may be the next big thing.



8 responses to “Is data the new ingredient for your refined glass of red wine?”

  1. jackcornelisse says :

    To be honest, the title you used for this blog post caught my attention. Data collection is hot in almost every industry and it seems like a way to have more control on something that is still hard to control, nature! As I was reading through your post, it seems like you introduce data collection and the use of data as a new thing in the wine industry. But I know that they already use a lot of technology to control different factors of the grapes and eventually the quality of the wine. I found an article on the genetically tailoring of grapes to combine the best DNA factors of different grapes, (Vivier & Pretorius, 2002). To stay competitive and deliver the quality that the customer demands, different companies in the wine industry are using these techniques for quite some time now as you can read in the article. In my opinion these characteristics derived from the DNA seem to have more impact on actual quality of the wine.

    On top of that, most of the vineries that are described in your article are still real vinegards so outside constantly affected by weather conditions, which means that data on the amount of water and temperature the grapes are getting is limited to only data collection. Grapes that need water can be given more water, I’m aware of that, but grapes that had to much water can not be helped any more. Or am I missing out on this point? Another question: do you think the vineries mentioned in your article are able to compete with the DNA tailoring by using these data collections?

    Vivier, M.A., Pretorius, I.S. (2002). Genetically tailored grapevines for the wine industry, Trends in Biotechnology, Volume 20, Issue 11, 1 November 2002, pp. 472-478

  2. christiandewit says :

    You’re right Jack. The use of data gathering in wine production is not an entirely new phenomenon but it is gaining ground nowadays. Interesting that they are even experimenting with the use of the best DNA factors of grapes, that may be the next step wineries will take. Although I think that the step from using more data to control the production of wines is one that is going on right now and will only become bigger the upcoming years. The Introduction of using DNA is still in its infancy and to me it seems to entangle a major shift in the industry.

    Concerning your question regarding the competition between DNA tailoring and the wineries I mentioned. The tailoring is definitely a competitor to take into consideration for the traditional wineries that make use of data-driven production. If the genetically tailored grapevines are able to compete on taste is something I would like to discover myself sometime soon.

  3. Virginie Scoarnec says :

    Hello, I am the Director of Sales and Marketing at Fruition Sciences. First of all, thanks a lot for your article!

    Jack, you’re right, winemakers and vineyard managers should not focus solely on a water and fruit data. Everything is intertwined and connected. Our system tracks the plant cycle from bud break to harvest, linking climate, nutrient, soil, water, fruit and more. Post harvest, we look at vine vigor and biomass. And of course, everything is analyzed and interpreted taking into account the plant material (clone, varietal, rootstock).
    However, I think you are mistaken when you say “most of the vineries that are described in your article are still real vinegards so outside constantly affected by weather conditions, which means that data on the amount of water and temperature the grapes are getting is limited to only data collection”. We/ they do not collect data just because it is fun or cool.
    Doctors need tools to make reliable diagnosis on their patients, so do winemakers with their vines! Practices can dramatically influence the profile of a wine, the yield and also how we use water. Unfortunately, too often decisions are made based on bad data or no data and consequences can be bad.
    We proved last year in California that not using data and sensor technology was actually wasting more than 300,000 us gallons per acre! Imagine for a small 50-acre vineyard how much you can save, while benefiting your vine and your wine quality! The real challenge is people actually applying much more water than they should… To a lesser extent, in some areas, vineyards get too much water. There are a few practices to fight that, including putting more cover crop, growing bigger canopies, planting more densely.
    Hope that helps!

    • jackcornelisse says :

      Thanks for this reply Virginie. this information sure helps to give me a better view of whats going on in this market. I am aware that my statement on the affection of the weather conditions and the data collection was somewhat limited. It seemed fair to me that you are able to collect more data than just the weather conditions to be able to support the winemakers. Still I am surprised that you are able to collect data from bud break to harvest, so I am glad you replied.

      You made me curious! You also mentioned that Fruition Sciences benefits the wine quality, is this because the data driven harvests are better or are the winemakers able to tune their wine even more with the post harvest technologies?

      • Virginie Scoarnec says :

        Hi Jack, the less you intervene in the vineyard, the more you respect the plant physiology. As a result, the plant better regulates itself and quality will improve as a result. Human practices can override a vintage or a terroir effect, they can have a huge impact on quality, quantity and wine profile… There is a direct link between water applied and berry maturation.

        Applying too much water messes it with the plant hormonal system, delays maturation, increases berry size and so on.
        By letting it strive (up to a certain point), the plant is going to focus its energy on the fruit, increasing color, focusing on sugar loading, phenolics, etc, leading up to an increase in wine quality.
        It is very complex and not easy to summarize in only a few words but I hope this helps.

  4. 420914mp says :

    One the one hand I really like the idea and I think it’s very innovative, but on the other hand it think it is a bit sad. I consider myself as a burgundian, I enjoy good food & wine, and I’m struggling with the fact that data is also beginning to rule in these industries. I do understand the many benefits of it, namely that it can reduce the failure of harvests, improve the quality of the wine, reduce water wastage, etc… since big data allows us to gather a great amount of information about the weather, rainfall, humidity levels, and real time data on how the vines are doing. I also found an article about big data in the food industry where they explain how big data can be used to create recipes. The program works in 5 steps to ensure that the recipes are creative, unusual and pleasant to eat. This technology can help manufacturers and top chefs to come up with new ideas.
    The downside of this all is that for me the art, the culture, the charm, and the experience goes lost with the implementation of all these technologies. Also, small farmers or wine producers will not be able to make the costs to implement the new technologies and therefore will not be able to compete with the big boys.

  5. 361546cn says :

    Nicely written article Christian, as a sommelier-to-be I enjoyed reading this. With the rise of data collection and usage for commercial purposes, do you think the wineries will eventually produce wine that meets the customer’s personal expectations. For instance, giving the clients the opportunity to personalize the products to their own preferences? It might sound hard to believe, but in times of mass customization, it will be only a matter of time before wineries offer consumers the chance to tailor the wines to their desired taste. Clients will get their perfect products while the wine companies establish their sales, creating a win-win situation. Would you be persuaded by this concept?

  6. christiandewit says :

    Interesting that you want to become a sommelier Kien, you’ll probably see these kind of data-driven approaches develop in the upcoming years. With personalization being a hot-topic at the moment this can well be a chance for wineries. I think we are still a long way until this entire traditional industry will actually see major changes for personalization though. I think as a sommelier-to-be I can better ask you the question if you are excited to see changes like this in this industry?

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