Artificial intelligence is helping to produce more natural wines. It’s a bold statement, but the technologies currently being deployed in the fields are helping farmers and wineries to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides by embracing smarter approaches. Irrigation is also benefiting from the trend, allowing for more sustainable practices with less wastage. And it all boils down to gathering exact data and developing the tools to obtain an instant analysis of what’s going on in the fields. So, here are some of the ways in which artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing a vital role in shaping a future of sustainable winemaking.

Targeted fertilizers and pesticides

Organic wines are on the increase, with one billion bottles expected to be produced in the world by 2020. Countries like the United States have recorded a 10-20% year-on-year increase in consumption. Meanwhile, Spain has become the largest organic wine producer in the world, according to a IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Moreover, organic winemaking, though still a small proportion of the market, has had a trickle-down effect on grapevine growing practices. Many wineries are already organic in everything but in name, as Ochoa, a bodega up North in Spain, where they have gradually phased out fertilizers and pesticides. On the whole, there are more and more producers aiming to reduce their chemical footprint as well as improving the management of their resources. Sustainability is the name of the game.

Artificial intelligence is one of the tools being used by wineries to become more discriminating in their approach to fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. With data collected from satellites, drones, and ground-sensors, AI systems can assess the exact need for chemicals and where to deploy them. For instance, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) provides insights into the health of vines and canopy cover. With that analysis, farmers can know which plants have nutrient deficiencies and so fertilize them accordingly. Similarly, detecting pests in the early stages of an outbreak can prevent the misuse of pesticides.

As Niël Groenewald from Distell, a winery in South Africa, points out, the advantages of AI and smart viticulture include the “reduction in the use of water, energy, herbicides, and insecticides, making us altogether more eco-conscious and cost-efficient. The upshot is better raw materials, lower-impact farming, and smarter use of scarce resources. That’s very exciting.”

Smart solar PV

Climate change ranks very high in the concerns of wineries and farmers, as they are already feeling the sting in their yields. But how can the industry adapt to the change while also adopting less harmful practices? Sunburn is one of the first and most direct effects of global warming on vineyards. Being able to control the amount of sunlight received by grapevines looks like a straightforward solution. Of course, vines still need sunshine to thrive, so achieving the balance can be tricky.

Sun’Agri is a French company that has come up with an exciting alternative – offering solar power and shade in a single package. Their technology is an AI-enabled dynamic agrivoltaic system with moving solar PV panels. The arrays provide shade for the vineyard, but also have different degrees of tilt to regulate the exposure to sunlight. Thus, artificial intelligence algorithms, based on the moisture of the soil and heat readings, decide the required amount of shade and the exact tilt of the panels. Besides heatwaves, the installation can protect the vineyards from other unwelcome weather events such as hail or frosts. Of course, the cherry on the cake is that farmers can generate solar power for their own use and also transfer it to the grid.

Artificial intelligence for irrigation

Another issue arising from global warming is the increased need for irrigation. Understanding the exact moisture needs of a vineyard and being able to water the plants in accordance is essential to obtain good quality grapes. Of course, smart irrigation also means less water wastage, which is more eco-friendly and cost-effective too. Currently, irrigation delivers the same amount of water to all the vines in the field. However, factors such as the age of the vines, the amount of sunlight received, or the type of soil means that moisture requirements differ. Enter AI. A granular irrigation system, coupled with an AI analysis, can deliver the required water for each plant, no more, no less. It’s a similar approach to targeted pesticides and fertilizers – knowing how much to apply and having the tools to do so through IoT and robotics.

The challenges of global warming and the scarcity of resources mean that all those technologies will not be just a compelling approach for winemakers, but an essential component for their survival.

Sources: PV Magazine, GroBank, Foods and Wines from Spain