• You didn't think it was going
    to be that easy, did you?
  • Orange before it was cool
  • All I'm offering
    is the truth
  • I need your clothes, your
    boots and your motorcycle
  • Suddenly it's not decades
    away - it's right now
  • “Life,” said Marvin dolefully, “loathe
    it or ignore it, you can’t like it.”
  • Madness, and then illumination
  • Resistance is futile
  • Let the Hunger Games begin
  • I am your father
  • Aren’t you a little short
    for a stormtrooper?
  • Into the garbage chute, flyboy!
  • I’ve got a very bad
    feeling about this
  • I find your lack of faith disturbing
  • Watch your future’s end
  • Clearly, fame isn’t everything,
    is it, Mr. Potter?
  • Ask why.
  • Fair and balanced
  • Here it is, your
    moment of Zen
  • Tell me what you don't
    like about yourself
  • You won't like us
    when we're angry
  • You're fired
  • Where's the beef?
  • More than just
    a princess
  • We've got to risk implosion
  • A fire-eater must eat fire
  • I want to see gamma rays!
  • Hey doll, is this guy
    boring you?
  • We need not to
    be let alone
  • Yada, yada, yada

How technology is transforming the wine trade

Drones? Giant cameras? The modern vineyard is changing fast and while connoisseurs might be concerned, wine production has never been more efficient, Jack Flanagan reports


It is a new age in winemaking. The old days of doing everything by hand is ending. And while large-scale harvesters and flood-lights might not be news, the vintners of tomorrow have a few tricks up their sleeves.


France is still the world’s largest producer of wine, followed by Italy and Spain. They also produce the world’s best wines, according to amateur opinion and competitions. Vineyard ownership, which is often hereditary, brings with it a huge responsibility to get a perfect vintage out year after year.

It isn’t easy. Anyone who’s ever tried their hand at gardening anything beyond a Yucca plant will know that plants can be extremely particular, be that the soil, moisture, season or light they get. Raising hundreds of acres of grapes, so that they all provide a world-class wine, is no mean feat.

So, vintners have innovated.

New Technologies

Of course, they have been innovating for hundreds of years. Pest-resistant strains have been bred, along with vines that grow more berries and less leaves (although it means they need 20% more water). The use of Harvesters instead of hands is also a recent addition – wine connoisseurs in the past have been known to call it “cheating”, and believe it might even affect the taste. So anything new in such a venerated tradition doesn’t come without controversy.

A wine harvester

And yet as advanced technology, the sort-of thing that requires a Masters of Science to understand, becomes available at lower prices (well, hovering among the thousands), vineyards in France and areas outside are adopting them.

Vineyard drone in action

Perhaps least surprising, if you’ve noticed a trend lately, is the addition of drones. Right now, they have a simple task: flying over vineyards, checking for damage or anything suspicious.

In the future, however, they may be required to do more labour-intensive tasks such as vine maintenance, e.g. pruning and checking how ripe the grapes are. This, specifically, is the task of a little droid resembling a rover: it skates along the vineyard floor, analysing and remembering the details of the vines. If they’re getting too long, the robot prunes them back.

Example of a vineyard heat map

Example of a vineyard heat map

Robots are one thing, and satellites another. Vineyards yet again in France are using satellites to create “heat maps” which detect infrared rays. These rays are indirect indicators of photosynthesis activity, which tells us how productive a valley is being. When the stakes are high and every bottle needs to be a winner, knowing the good plots from the bad is essential.

And then there are cameras. “Optical sorting” is a processes that sorts the good grapes from the bad. Grapes, de-stemmed, are placed on a vibrating metal plate to separate them. A conveyor belt then passes them under a bright halogen light, where a camera then captures each grape. The camera looks at shape, size, and colour and compares them with the winemaker’s settings. If a berry isn’t up to scratch, a puff of air sends it on its way, while the others are retained for wine-making.

Out in the fields, a large camera, resembling a flood light, can measure pigmentation in the grapes. Basically, an extraordinarily precise way of finding out whether the grape is ripe or not.

There are a host of smaller, less dramatic, but nonetheless essential new technologies in winemaking. Vinperfect, a startup based in Napa Valley, California, seeks to answer the “Closure question”.

VinPerfect screw caps

VinPerfect screw caps

Wine gets corked because it allows some air to get through, and helps mature the wine. The problem is that there is no guarantee how much air will get through, and how that will affect the taste of the wine. Vinperfect’s patent-pending solution is screw caps, which allows vintners to regulate the flow of oxygen into their wine. A fine science indeed.

Innovations are coming thick and fast in the winemaking industry. It’s not easy: this isn’t fast food. Many new technologies face a backlash from connoisseurs who invariably think that the traditional methods are the best. Whether or not there’s truth to that, is down to the finest tastebuds.


Subscribe to our mailing list

Stay informed. Join The Kernel by subscribing for free to our mailing list and receive exclusive content, offers and information relevant to you, direct to your inbox.

We collect email addresses solely for the purposes of keeping you up to date with our journalism, events, offers and other information we think you may be interested in. We never share your email address with anyone and we only use it to send you information about The Kernel that we believe you will enjoy.