The technology bringing ever finer wines to our table

Winemaking is an ancient craft, but a dynamic one, with endless new ideas and developments subtly changing the process. While wine drinkers are beginning to tire of mass-produced bottles that regularly rate as subpar, technology is changing the game once again to bring finer wines to our tables.

Tech is not just changing the way we produce wine, but changing the way we choose wine. Technology is connecting consumers and producers across the globe to bring back a meaningful connection that had been lost in transactions with faceless corporations. It just so happens that it’s making wine better in the process.

Technology that helps us determine fine wines

Experts have intuitive methods for determining fine wines, but technology is helping fine wine valuers make their assessments with greater accuracy. Leading experts in fine wine valuation, The London Wine Cellar, purchase fine investment wine from private collections, determining their valuations using algorithms based on an aggregate of recent sales, competitors’ offers and the market-leading wine data company, LIVEX.

Some high-end wineries are using a special Bubble Tag seal to prevent wine fraud. The bubble pattern can be matched on the Prooftag website to make sure the wine is authentic. Other tech solutions to combat fine wine fraud include RFID chips and Proof Tags, which provide suitable asset management solutions for vintners.

The risk with such technologies, though, it that they can be peeled or simply fall off. What this means is that the only report an authenticator of fine wine can deliver without a shadow of a doubt is whether or not a bottle is counterfeit.

There may be a new solution, however. Fine wine expert Maureen Downey and diamond certifiers Everledger have developed the Chai Wine Vault. It’s an online database otherwise referred to as a ‘blockchain’ system. The Chai method creates a digital thumbprint for each bottle, each record sealed with a time stamp, making those who traffic wine more accountable.

Technology that helps us produce fine wine

Academics at the University of Aberdeen are using flying drones, GoPro cameras and GPS systems, along with personal expertise, to help optimise the growth of wine grapes. It’s called Precision Viticulture (the science, production and growing of grapes) and, thanks to advances in aerial imaging technology, is saving money and improving the quality of our wines.

Using footage captured by drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), even earth-observation satellites for precision agriculture, vineyard managers are reaping the rewards of quicker and more accurate overviews of the health of a crop. That includes indications of where growing aids such as pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation might be most needed, or even predicting (and preventing) the impact of incoming weather fronts on potential yield. The tech is further improving the sustainability of manufacturing fine wines in an economical and eco-friendly manner.

And when it comes to harvesting fine wines, tech is changing the game once again. While mechanical harvesting is nothing new (makers of bulk wine dispensed with hand-picking in the 1970s) but using machines has long been associated with low-end wineries that could not afford traditional artisanal methods of hand picking.

Now, “Technology has vastly improved the low end,” says Tim Keller, a former winemaker at Steltzner Vineyards in Napa. mechanical pickers equipped with gyroscopes, hydraulic controls, and as many as ten pairs of flexible fiberglass rods and rollers pluck grapes from the vines, left undamaged. Keller continues: “There’s no longer an excuse for making a defective wine.”

In one Napa Valley winery, science and technology is transforming the fermentation process too. Using detectors to monitor a range of variables, such as temperature and sugar content, big data systems and intuitive computers can keep conditions in check and alert winemakers to any cause for concern. The winery has also developed its own app, to allow workers to access the system remotely.

Technology that helps us choose fine wine

Naked Wines is an online wine club that aims to create “consumers with a conscience”. Customers, referred to as ‘Angels,’ put $20 a month into their virtual piggy banks to spend on exclusive wines at insider prices. The beauty of it is that every bottle sold on the network has a human story behind it: buyers communicate with sellers via email correspondence, and the website profiles artisan winegrowers and makers for an insight into the passions of those who made the bottle you are about to enjoy.

Vivino is an app that allows users to scan any bottle of wine to retrieve user reviews, average ratings and average price per bottle, along with information on its production, tasting notes and suggested food pairings to help drinkers determine the best choice. The smartphone app reportedly receives 100,000 new ratings every day compared to only 20,000 per year on more traditional wine rating platforms.

The most recent revelation in wine recommendation apps focuses not only on information about the taste, origin and price of the wine itself, but drills down a step further to cater to the specific occasion the drinker finds himself in. Fiasco, which launched in 2014, asks users to begin by selecting an occasion, such as ‘date night’ or ‘gift for a friend’. A secondary round of queries asks for food pairings or price range, and referencing the user’s taste profile specifications yields specific bottle recommendations—it’s personal shopping for wine.

Sometimes, it gets a little out of hand. The Kuvee internet-connected wine bottle has a touchscreen smart label and integrated RFID chip sensor, both of which are designed to allow wine drinkers to read up on and detect the quality of wine inside. It’s wifi-enabled and “easily recharged” (I’m sorry, what?!)—oh, and here’s the real novelty: a “Good ‘Ole Screw Cap”. One Twitter user remarked on the sheer uselessness of such a product, noting it’s Silicon Valley gone mad.

So not all solutions are the most practical, but mad or not, tech is changing the way we grow, and the way we choose wine, forever. Whatever you think of it, one thing’s for sure: this tech is making poor plonk a thing of the past.

The technology bringing ever finer wines to our table