MARKET | Oct 9, 2019

More data for a quality wine

How do technological innovation and data analysis improve the wine production process?

For years, within the Agri-food industry, the wine sector has confirmed its dynamism and liveliness compared with other Italian agri-food production sectors and shows a clear desire to make even significant investments in innovation over the coming years. According to the Observatory of the Digital Transformation Institute, which involved about 300 wine producers, 60.7% of companies considers technology useful for business, although what the company intends by technology, how it has measured the attributed value and on which instruments or actions it can be considered at the forefront, continue to remain completely vague. The survey also reveals that, despite all good intentions, the investment quotas dedicated to technology are quite modest: where 77.3% of companies has not made investments, or has done so for less than € 5,000 in the last 5 years, only 22.7% has made bigger investments and mainly in very large companies (49%).

After all, the sector’s interest in using data and innovative techniques to improve production was already present in the 1960s in America, when, following systematic studies, Albert Winkler identified some key production factors:

  • the influence of environmental conditions: rainfall, wind, fog, humidity, exposure, daytime temperatures, ripening time
  • the adaptability of vines to winemaking improvement practices, their temperatures, the types of yeasts, the aeration of the cellars
  • the suitability of wine to being stored in barrels or bottles, the degree of clarity, the development of the bouquet and the resistance to diseases
  • the basic quality of the wine produced through its variability.

Why are these data useful for wine production?

Winkler’s studies led to the identification, for each grape variety, of the main values of growth and differentiation: acids, alcohol, pH, tannins, and so on. This quantitative analysis is used by controlling fermentation and allows using heat summation, which consists in summing the average temperatures of every day during the growing season in which the thermometer exceeds ten degrees centigrade. During these days the vine is active and grows, therefore the heat summation expresses the number of its hours of activity.

“These procedures – explains Roberto Reali, an expert at the Digital Transformation Institute and a researcher with the CNR Department of Bio-Food Sciences – together with a first use of data and of quantitative analysis have allowed winemaking to have a stable production in its basic values and in the quality and taste of the wine, without prejudice to the variability of the seasons. Moreover, wine in barrels or bottles has become more transportable and not subject to changes in product quality and the creation of a winemaking process on a rational basis has now become one of the most important tools for creating a marketable product. This is how quality wine as we now know it is born”.

What are the essential factors in the digital transformation of the wine sector?

The game is played out on the data relating to the analysis of the soil, its exposure and humidity, the temperature changes between day and night; on the choice of the most suitable vines for growth and development; on the study of the vine’s resistance characteristics and its care through insecticides or fertilizers; on the control of winemaking with precision instruments, use of fermentation yeasts and refrigeration systems and on the conservation of the product through aging in barrels or bottling.

Each of these phases can improve through the use of technology, thus helping to produce higher quality wines which are much more competitive on the market.

What data are useful during the production phase?

First, precision farming allows the rational use of resources (water, fertilizers, insecticides), the monitoring of various cultivation factors (temperature, temperature change, humidity, atmospheric factors, insolation), the fight against bacteria, fungi and insects responsible for plant diseases, the potential growth both in terms of product and of quality after a suitable analysis and choice of vines.

The monitoring systems, on the other hand, collect data on the state of the crops, on the potential of the individual area observed, on the use of fertilizers. The storage of multiple information in a database creates a GIS (Geographic Information System). A free application, developed by CNR IBIMET, which helps to understand the benefits is Agrosat.

Finally, biosensors detect an electrical signal or an energy differential in normal plant biological processes and manage to “measure” the physiological and pathological events of many crops. To achieve this type of output, the requirement is that the enormous quantity of data collected throughout the supply chain should be transformed into concrete knowledge, in order to add the intangible value of the Supply Chain information to the material value of the food product.

What data are useful during the transformation phase?

The generic identification of the vines is the means that today allows us to obtain complete transparency of the use of a vine until its transformation into wine. Portable analysis systems, in fact, create a new standard, overcoming the classic certification systems of designations of origin.

There are also standard tools to support winemaking which offer very important data for the distribution phase: enzymatic analysis and control on tartaric stability.

And during the distribution and marketing phase?

The most important data are obtained from the traceability systems, which guarantee transparency throughout the entire wine production chain from the field to the table; they enable monitoring and scheduling the distribution of the product and identifying any defective batches and quickly retrieving the information in order to intervene. They also develop an intelligent label which allows the product to be transparent through the analysis of the content. In fact, it is important to be able to record production trends with an adequate management control system. “The visibility of the various steps of the supply chain” – says Roberto Reali – is an assumption of responsibility by companies and ensures consumer confidence, increasing the propensity to purchase and creating a competitive advantage”.

We are therefore looking at a sector in which traditional systems rooted within the company meet technologies and the use of the resulting data in order to improve product quality, the territorial and distinctive typifying of vines and the marketing towards domestic and foreign markets.

Stefania Farsagli