Published On: Tue, Jul 5th, 2016

The Loire Valley meets Silicon Valley – how wine is going hi-tech

Wine has long been thought of as the domain of stuffy, know-it-all experts and cellars full of dusty bottles of expensive, vintage plonk. Yet, with wine gradually becoming the go-to beverage for millennials on both sides of the Atlantic, and apps like Vivino making wine even more accessible to the casual consumer, it seems fitting that technology has begun to play an increasingly important role in wine production itself.

Lasers, drones and satellites are all being used to monitor and enhance the growth of grapes, and improve the quality of what ends up in the bottle. But just how do these seemingly random technologies actually make your wine better in the bottle?

Soil-supervising satellites

While high-definition satellite technology is most often used in defence, urban planning and environmental response, its commercial use in agriculture began in earnest around the turn of the decade. When the application of satellites, the costs were prohibitive for most farmers. However, in recent years, it became far more cost-effective to use satellites rather than calling out for a manual inspector.

Satellite technology gives grape-growers the ability to identify the soil type and ripeness of the grapes in different areas of their vineyard. With additional developments like satellite constellations and improved image quality, farmers are now more easily able to see how their crops are doing.

Grapevine

Keeping a closer watch

According to a recent Buzzfeed article, the purchase of drones for agricultural purposes is set to account for 80% of commercial drone use by 2025. Much like using satellites, the application of drones in farming has become more prevalent as the technology becomes more affordable.

Particularly for owners of small vineyards, acquiring drones to monitor their crops is fast becoming the best way to optimise the timing of fertiliser and pesticide. as well as ultimately leading to sustainable, intelligent farming for the future. The announcement of a drone which sprays crops “over 40 times more efficient[ly] than manual spraying” is almost certainly the first of many developments in this field which will revolutionise the industry.

Microchips for monitoring your merlot

But it’s not all sky-based surveillance in the newly hi-tech wine industry. Microchips are making their presence felt in both sides of the manufacturing process. A chip developed at Cornell University, each of which can be mass-produced for five dollars, has been trial-implanted inside grapevines. The chip includes a membrane which allows water to evaporate, as well as a small water supply, and allows wine growers to monitor how hydrated their plants are, and alert them when they need to water the vines.

Microchips are also starting to be used once the wine gets bottled, corked and shelved. The London Wine Cellar, specialists in valuing fine wines, have frequently warned their customers against scamming in the wine investment industry, and highly recommend professional guidance as with any investment. Wine investment scams have led to extended jail sentences for offenders in recent years, with unsuspecting investors losing up to half a million pounds.

Consequently, microchips are now being embedded into the labels on wine bottles in order to avoid counterfeit scams. Described by the developers as “a super smart barcode,” the chip allows the buyer to follow the history of the wine from vineyard to shop, ensuring authenticity and transparency in the purchase of fine wine.