Internet of Vines: how winemakers are embracing hi-tech

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Digital transformation is changing the ancient art of wine making or vinification, enabling vineyards to crunch data to make better vintages and consumers to download apps to turn themselves into amateur connoisseurs.

Wine consumption is expanding, but the face of the industry is changing, says the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV). Wine is finding new customers in large countries such as Brazil and with younger generations. And European wine makers are being challenged by new producers in China and Canada.

In an industry that is set to hit $4.2 billion by 2022, according to analysts Mordor Intelligence, it is little surprise wine makers are turning to technology to improve their production and grow their market share.

Big data controlling wine production

One of the biggest problems for wine producers is that they have no control over the actual grape growing season. The most variance in the vintage quality is usually in the places with the most variable weather. A bad vintage means dramatically reduced revenue for winemakers and a far smaller supply of wine from certain estates, making prices higher for the consumer. 

Adelaide University has developed an app that measures the growth of the ‘vineyard canopy’ to manage the balance between leaf size and fruit production and improve harvests. Vines with a large canopy bear less and lower quality fruit. Previous manual readings were slow and time consuming. Using the VitiCanopy app, the wine maker takes a photo of the vine on a smartphone and a reading is returned. A GPS capability shows where the ‘canopies’ need to be cut back.

Connected vineyards

Thanks to advances in IoT in other agricultural crops, the wine making industry is seeing its potential to monitor crops, improve quality and yields.

Most vineyards track data, but much of the collection has been manual and the analysis labor intensive. IoT has the power to deliver intelligence quickly and easily to enhance vineyard planning and sustainability programs.

Low lower, rugged wireless sensors are buried in the ground to monitor the health and condition of vines. These sensors run off batteries or energy harvesting devices such as solar panels. This data is collected and relayed to the cloud for analysis to monitor vine health levels for example or to predict the optimum time for harvesting the grapes. Connectivity is provided via low power networks such as LoRaWAN.

LoRaWAN’s long range, low power connectivity capabilities make it ideal for vineyard IoT applications as it can deal with long distances as well as the demands of rugged, remote terrains that some vineyards are built on.

Vineyards are already experimenting with IoT. Château Kefraya in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, for example, is testing Libatel’s IoT applications and sensors throughout the estate to gather valuable data, including soil and water temperature, moisture and humidity. The data, transmitted via a low-power, wide range LoRaWAN network, is visually presented as charts and graphs on the agricultural engineers’ mobile devices. From these they can assess vineyard conditions. It has already saved huge amounts of time and labor.

Four vineyards in the Moselle Valley, Germany are trailing TracoVino, an IoT solution designed to remotely monitor vineyards. A solar powered sensor platform and a controller platform measure weather variables and solar intensity alongside moisture of the vine leaves and soil PH, for example. The wine maker receives alerts and predictive analysis which can help determine optimal times for routine tasks such as fertilizing the crop.

In Canada, where the wine and grape industry is going through a growth spurt contributing around $8 billion to the country’s economy, according to the Canadian Vintners Association, winemakers are exploring IoT solutions that can help them deal with unexpected weather conditions that can have a direct impact on the quality, yield and mortality of their harvest.

Bell, BeWhere and Huawei have implemented an automated IoT system at the Henry of Pelham vineyard in St Catherins, Ontario. The winery has deployed a range of environmental wireless sensors connected to an LTE-M network to monitor vines. Data collected enables the vineyard to act on temperature changes immediately, such as switching on frost protection fans.

It isn’t only the vineyards that can benefit from IoT data.  IoT connected sensors can also help in the actual wine making process to monitor fermentation, for example, to ultimately produce better wines.

Raising a glass

Traditional wine making techniques are still as important in the wine industry as ever, but technology can he a huge aid in protecting vines and terroir. Baron Philippe de Rothschild, for example, is experimenting with a robot at his Château Clerc Milon to help with soil culvitation and weeding the vines. As well as cutting down on arduous chores, it will reduce the use of fossil energies in the vineyards.

Château Clerc Milon’s robot, christened Ted, is the first in a generation of exciting new technologies we will see at work on high density vineyards in the future.

Find out more about how the Internet of Things and data analytics are helping companies gain a competitive edge, whatever their size or activity, here.
Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.