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Developing High-Quality Wine by Using Artificial Intelligence

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Until now, wineries’ decision-making processes for what to produce and sell were almost entirely subjective. It was extremely difficult to figure out how to make a great wine that would sell well in the market without data.

In the extremely competitive market where many wineries only have one shot per season to make great wine, an increasing number of winemakers are looking for ways to predict what consumers will like in order to create better products and increase profits.

To address this, engineering students from the University of Auckland and also New Zealand’s SME IT company have developed an AI digital eye mounted on a tractor that could help New Zealand winemakers cultivate valuable data on every single plant growing in a vineyard.

The team of young Auckland technology engineers can already count the clusters of grapes on the vines and detect disease and pest problems to minimise crop loss and estimate yields with the camera unit mounted on the front of a tractor. Growers can use AI-enabled hardware to monitor each plant, understand the entire crop and track how it changes over time.

The unit will be tested to geolocate each vine plant in a vineyard. The founder and developer of the AI device said wine crops require constant attention, but vineyards are large properties and growers do not have the ability or time to monitor every plant. The device used artificial intelligence (AI) analysis via a camera that could be mounted on a tractor, recording data as it travelled along each row.

The camera learns to look for diseases, it can detect missing or dying vines and anything wrong with plants. It gives growers a detailed picture of a vineyard so they can make better management decisions. During the 2021-22 growing season, additional evidence would be used to geolocate each plant in a vineyard and record their individual attributes, providing growers with a detailed profile of each plant.

New Zealand wine exports are valued at over $2 billion per year. It is a valuable – and vulnerable – industry, facing increased competition and challenges posed by climate change. The SME company estimates that the average winegrower currently monitors less than 1% of their vines, and see a competitive advantage possible if horticultural problems are identified early.

Advances in a variety of technologies could assist growers and winemakers in mitigating the negative impact of smoke taint and other uncontrollable factors such as frost, drought, pests, and disease — not just in New Zealand, but worldwide.

The emergence of good wine can be traced back to the vine. Delicious grapes are determined by the weather and cultivation strategies such as irrigation, fertilisation, pest control, and canopy management. Growers typically prefer smaller grape berries because they produce more grape skin and thus more compounds that influence flavour and aroma, such as anthocyanins, tannins, resveratrol, and polyphenols. Lower yields of grapes with top-quality traits may actually produce higher revenue per acre.

Viticulture, winemaking and brewing are both art and science. Science may gain an advantage as technology advances and scientific understanding of the processes occurring in the soil, root system, plant, canopies, and atmosphere deepen. As wine and beer become more popular and demand grows, especially in a world with changing climate, emerging technologies could give growers and producers something to toast.

Growers can use traditional methods, such as sending grapes to a lab and waiting six days or more for the results. However, having the information in real-time could assist growers in making decisions such as whether to separate untainted grapes from tainted grapes to minimise waste.

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