Home Wine Business Editorial Expert Editorial Expert Editorial: How Automation Is Transforming Our 8,000-Year-Old Industry

Expert Editorial: How Automation Is Transforming Our 8,000-Year-Old Industry

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New technology is helping wineries prepare for the unexpected,
from preventable human error to wildfires, droughts and beyond.

By Keith Chambers 

For generations, winemakers around the world have used the same processes to harvest, crush, ferment, clarify, age and bottle their wine. While variations and deviations can be seen between popular wine destinations such as Napa, Sonoma, Tuscany and others, the traditional and somewhat rigid process behind winemaking has largely remained steadfast for more than 8,000 years. 

Now, thanks to the power of automation, this is all about to change. 

Times — and climate — are changing

As climate change and other external factors (such as floods, fires and droughts) increasingly impact vineyards around the world, winemakers have had to innovate and adapt new technologies to maximize crop production and minimize bottlenecks along the supply chain. As a result, winemakers around the world are undergoing a renaissance of technological advancement, leveraging automation and predictive technologies to reimagine legacy processes for the first time in the industry’s history.

Here are three ways automation is completely revamping the winemaking industry and helping winemakers ensure this season’s harvest will be the best yet.  

Taking Guesswork Out of Grape Production 

Behind every great bottle of wine is a winemaker who has a strong passion for growing and caring for grapes — an intricate process that requires exceptional attention to detail. From tending the grapevines to deciding when to harvest, every choice within the growing process can seriously impact the end product. Thanks to automation, winemakers can “see” how these choices impact their vineyards in real time, taking the guesswork out of grape production and ensuring every move is informed by data.

When harvesting grapes for wine, for example, vignerons can now place sensors throughout their vineyards, giving them immediate access to information such as fertility and moisture levels, sucrose abnormalities, the presence of pests and more. This holistic data monitoring means not only can vignerons identify variability in the process before bringing the crop in for harvest, it also allows them to reduce water, waste and emissions through more precise farming techniques. In doing so, winemakers can maximize their yields and ensure consistency even before the grapes come off the vine. 

Eliminating Human Error

Beyond external factors that impact the winemaking process, internal challenges during the fermentation process, including human error caused by fatigue and miscalculations, can also impact the quality of wine in barrels. Unfortunately, winemaking teams too often discover these issues only after the fermentation process is complete, resulting in a loss of product, an increase in waste and lessened quality of the wine’s flavor.  

By harnessing advancements in automation, however, winemakers can synthesize data to better understand what’s going on in each barrel, identifying problems and making corrective actions (either locally or remotely), before it’s too late. Because technology can aggregate real-time data around the clock, those internal variations are easily mitigated. This lets winemakers comfortably rely on incoming data to help keep the proverbial train on the tracks — not to mention keep the wine tasting like it should taste, bottle after bottle. 

Helping Prepare for the Unexpected

As with the rest of the agriculture industry, the climate crisis has ravaged wineries around the world in recent years, subjecting vineyards to increasingly volatile and extreme conditions. Just consider a recent study, which found that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius could reduce the number of regions suitable for growing wine by 56%. Let that sink in: with just a 2% increase in temperature, we could see more than half of our beloved wine regions wiped off the face of the planet. This alone underscores the importance of urgent and preventive action to protect vineyard production yields.

While it can, admittedly, be difficult to prepare for external factors such as wildfires, climate change and more, data-based solutions can seed resilience and agility in the wine industry to help mitigate their consequences. Using an amalgamation of historical and current data, paired with post-factum analyses, vignerons can better understand how such external factors will impact their harvest and what will be needed to rectify their effects. Make no mistake: The climate crisis isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Through automation and data analysis, however, vintners can ensure they’re taking the steps necessary to prepare for the unexpected.  

Final thoughts 

Unfortunately, winemaking will never be a stress-free process. However, groundbreaking technology is available that lets vignerons, vintners and everyone in between increase their information, identify abnormalities and stabilize variability from harvest through production. 

By leveraging the incredible power of automation, winemakers are now able to more confidently take the guesswork out of the production process, eliminate human error and help prepare for the unexpected along the way — reimagining legacy processes and bringing winemaking into the digital age. 

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Keith Chambers

Keith Chambers is the global vice president and business unit leader for Operations Management Software, part of AVEVA’s Operations BU. He is responsible for strategic direction, commercialization, offer development and services for AVEVA MES, Production Management and Work Tasks offerings, and is an industry subject matter expert and thought leader for the food, beverage, CPG and the life science industries’ needs. He joined AVEVA in 2014 and has more than 20 years’ experience in the automation, software and MES business. He has worked extensively in the manufacturing operations software space in food, beverage and pharmaceutical plants in the United States, China, the Middle East and Europe. Keith holds a bachelors of electrical engineering from Curtin University (formerly the Western Australian Institute of Technology) in Perth, Australia.

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