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Our February Newsletter: tech is wine’s new frontier

In our February newsletter we consider wine’s new frontier: technology.

This coming month we have an event which shows how some of the technical adaptations forced on us by the pandemic are here to stay. We’re hosting a Gunma Craft Sake tasting on the 8th March in London, a hybrid event with brewers joining the tasting virtually from Japan. It’s a small example of the hybrids now colonising the event industry – and we think that the wine trade is ready to catch up.

Tech is wine’s new frontier, with all the rewards and hubris of a gold rush. But there’s a sticking point: our trade’s definition of ‘technology’ is imprecise. The ancient Greek tekhnologia (τεχνολογία) referred to the consideration of a systematic whole. And the systematic whole is where wine and tech disintegrate.

As digi-wine expert and 5 Forests founder Polly Hammond pointed out to Sarah at Wine Paris, the reason for this is wine’s fragmented regulatory structure. It prevents the systematic integration of different types of technology, limiting the success of said tech – and also limiting the appetite to invest in tech R&D and implementation in this space to begin with. What’s the motivation to invest when it is impossible to scale up your product globally?

Despite this obstacle, tech is still something we’re positive and excited about. There are areas of our trade where we’re seeing a well-developed, systematic application of scientific knowledge – and it’s happening in vineyards. Take Saturnalia. Using satellite imaging of vineyards, they are seeking to link vineyard practices to the eventual score a wine gets. Now they just need to persuade wineries to allow the publication of the data linking to those vineyards, (but that level of transparency would be worth a whole new newsletter).

A lot of what we think of as ‘wine tech’ is just existing tech applied, currently somewhat awkwardly, to wine.  Founders which have come from other industries were a common theme among the start-ups in the Wine Tech area at Wine Paris a couple of weeks ago. Engineers, gamers, designers. The D-Vine Pro – a new client for us – integrates electronics, engineering and content to address wastage and staff knowledge in wine service, promising to boost wine list profitability alongside customer experience.

Others are applying their tech expertise to wine in one of the most essential areas of the industry: communication.

AI is the basis of two interesting new ventures. The app WineSee, founded by a gaming entrepreneur, aims to make the gathering of wine tasting notes and data seamless and connected. Currently the app is being used for running wine competitions, but they aim to use their data learnings to generate predictive suggestions for consumers. Ultimately, they hope it’ll make the often-confusing world of wine more accessible.

Pix is having MW David Round teach their AI model how to recognise, categorise and recommend wines on their platform. One of the key problems in the wine industry is that data isn’t properly aggregated and linked to CRM systems. At the moment, that’s because the cost of integrating that information is prohibitive given wine’s slim margins. It’s a strange quirk of wine – by all measures a luxury good, full of diversity and specificity – that it’s treated as a low-margin product.

Pix’s AI product could bridge the cost-benefit gap which would bring wine’s communications to the level of comparable industries. So, it makes us question the validity of the heated hostility we see towards tech in wine in general, and AI in particular. Without it, it’ll take us decades to work out the customer journey. And decades to get profits up. And that should worry us all.

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