With fast evolving technology and fermentation monitoring in wine, we are about to witness a revolution that will take this industry to a new level.
By Jacob Manning
The COVID-19 shutdown caused operations managers and winemakers worldwide to adjust their methods of winemaking, and the extreme labor shortages that stemmed from the pandemic forced them to operate only with skeleton crews. Since wineries fall under the umbrella of “food production,” they were able to still operate as an essential business, but many were thrown a curveball — the actual winemaker was not considered an onsite necessity.
As a result, the industry had to rely on virtual winemaking, with winemakers conducting their decision-making from home while onsite teams worked the tanks. In the beginning, there weren’t many tools at their disposal, and most were relying on manual data points. However, a shift occurred once winemakers were presented with the ability to receive real-time data on the status of their wine from within the tanks. This was the game changer.
Proactive not reactive
The industry has been grappling with how to capture and effectualize this kind of data for some time now. Multiple players have tried to cobble together different sensors with varying degrees of success, but the accuracy and management of that data still remained an enigma – until now.
With fast evolving artificial intelligence (AI) technology and fermentation monitoring in wine, we are about to witness a revolution that will take this industry to a new level. No longer is real-time data capture the single goal or metric anymore. Now, the focus is on environmental suitability (Can the tech handle the rigors of a big red fermentation?) and machine learning (Can that data offer predictive vision that moves us away from being the “ambulance at the bottom of the hill”?). Layer all of this on top of real-time data capture and analysis, and we’ve unlocked an unprecedented environment for winemakers to improve and sustain their craft.
With AI-powered fermentation analysis technology, winemakers are no longer limited to checking on their wines manually as data comes in from the lab team and cellar hands. Instead, they can analyze trends and data points instantly and deliver change orders virtually at any point of the day. This ability arms winery ops managers with the ability to cut labor costs and liability on the catwalks.
The manual sampling process is a grueling one, as workers are often dealing with harsh weather conditions and environmental temperatures upwards of 110°F (43°C) — often leading to heat stresses, burns and other injuries. Removing catwalks from the equation saves money and improves health and safety for all employees.
This data revolution also changes the role of laboratories. Most wineries only have the human and financial resources to sample their tanks once per day, which means possibly missing critical junctures in a ferment. With new technologies such as AI-powered in-tank sensors, sampling is possible every minute, 24/7. Not only does this save wineries time and labor, it lets winemakers understand the exact state of each tank without manual intervention and potentially costly losses of a ferment.
As there are a magnitude of tank shapes and sizes, most require data-capture devices be customized and fitted individually. For white varieties, these devices can be lowered into the tank at any time. For reds, there are specialized mounting systems that can help the tech cope with the harshness of that high-pressure environment. Wineries now have access to rich, real-time and predictive insights into pH, Brix and temperature for different ferments, delivered as live data sets straight to their personal computers or mobile devices.
Minimum intervention wine
Another major factor to consider in the move toward automation in the cellar is the growing popularity of minimum intervention wine. Most industrial wine producers use additives in their ferments to prevent spoilage. However, this can damage the wine and impact the flavor quality of the end product. Winemakers have taken note and are now rethinking the chemicals, nutrients and other additives they use in the fermentation process.
This change requires more frequent check-ins with the wine. If something looks off — like the ferment temperature is too high or the Brix is not reducing at a steady rate — winemakers need to be able to react quickly. Real-time data empowers them to do so. This minimizes risk and manual intervention, which is a common objective of wine producers.
For winemakers to move their craft forward, they’ll need a continuous input of reliable, essential data. We’re starting to see that the more risk you take with your winemaking, the greater the taste profile you can potentially yield. Once winemakers can fully visualize what’s happening with their ferments at any time of the day or night — and proactively respond — they’ll be free to experiment with new techniques/inputs, greatly improving the quality of their wines without risking spoilage or loss.
Jacob Manning is CEO and co-founder of Winely, an Exocule company and AI-powered precision fermentation solution that optimizes tradition while deepening the connection between the wine and winemaker through real-time, deep learning-based data collection and analysis. Manning also serves as Winely’s qualified accountant, molecular biologist and data analyst. As such, he confidently leads the vision and strategy of the company’s technology, with deep scientific knowledge and understanding of this emerging industry. Contact: [email protected]