How AI will shape the future of wine

David BECK Academic - Economics, Society and Political science - Environment and Technologies (AI, blockchain)

Within the next decade, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the power to transform the wine industry forever. Right now, applications of AI for the wine industry are limited – but AI promises to be one of those immersive technologies that are embedded in everything we do, one way or another. AI impacts buying patterns, the process of growing vines in the vineyards and judging criteria for wines.

Think of how the Internet has revolutionized the wine industry in just the past two decades. It impacts how we learn about wine, how we order and buy wine online, and how we market wine to end consumers via social media platforms. So, think of the Internet as a sort of preview of coming attractions – as widely and deeply as the Internet has impacted the wine industry, AI promises to do much the same.

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Robots and drones in the vineyard

What about the role of AI in the wine industry before the wine ever makes it to a retail store shelf? Already, some winemakers are experimenting with AI-powered machines in the vineyard that can help them with issues like soil management. Within a decade, autonomous flying drones overhead will tell grape growers exactly which vines need to be watered and can help with all sorts of soil issues. In fact, some wine experts have already suggested that robots will do all the work in the vineyard, freeing up time for the head winemaker to come up with innovative winemaking techniques.

Artificial intelligence and climate change

One big impact on the wine industry is going to be climate change, and that is going to create a very real need for expertise on how to deal with rapidly changing climate conditions. What happens when a wine region known for its temperate climate becomes warm and arid? Or when a cool, dry climate becomes hot and wet? Already, we are starting to see the emergence of wine expertise in areas of the world formerly thought to be outside of the range of winemaking? If polar ice caps are melting, does that mean that Greenland or Iceland might soon have thriving vineyards? Or that wine regions located along the coastline might at risk of rising water levels worldwide? To answer these questions, winemakers might have to turn to sophisticated AI algorithms, which might be able to advise on how to alter growing conditions to deal with these climate changes.

AI-powered wine critics and judges

Thanks to breakthroughs in AI, human senses are coming to a robot near you. Think of how AI-powered algorithms can now recognize speech and language, and how computer vision is now able to see the same things as human vision. And now AI-powered bots could soon be imbued with a sense of taste as well that will be as good as – or better – than that of a human wine critic. Just think of how that will completely disrupt the world of wine when robot reviews are deemed to be better than human reviews.

In some sense, we have already seen that dynamic at work, thanks to the Internet. The “hive mind” of the Internet – pulling together reviews, ratings and comments from thousands of people – is now deemed to be a better barometer of just how good a wine is going to be than the formal wine column of a critic. So, in the future, we may no longer be talking about 90-point reviews from an esteemed wine critic like Robert Parker. Instead, we might be talking about 90-point reviews from Google, Amazon or Apple. Entire tasting competitions might be transformed as well, as robot tasters are able to taste hundreds, if not thousands, of wines in the span of just a few hours.

The rise of the virtual sommelier

Artificial intelligence has already progressed to the point where it can recommend the right wine to pair with a specific dish, and that type of “virtual sommelier” functionality is set to increase dramatically in the future. To understand how this is going to happen, think about how AI-powered virtual assistants within the home – such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri – are already transforming how we search for wine online.

Thanks to the magic of machine learning, algorithms can learn to understand your own unique tastes and preferences and compare those against a range of possible search results. The AI-powered virtual sommeliers of the future will know you so well, that it will be able to suggest the right wine for you. And, you’ll likely access this virtual sommelier via your mobile phone. Imagine going out to a restaurant and calling up a mobile sommelier app to make a wine selection for you once you’ve told it exactly which dish you are planning to enjoy that night.

The AI shop assistant

And this same type of AI-powered recommendation engine could impact the future of retail wine sales as well. Instead of interacting with wine sales clerks at your local retail wine store, you might instead interact with a friendly, AI-powered robot that’s roaming the aisles, just waiting for a chance to share its knowledge with you. This type of AI-powered robot is most likely to take off first in Asia, especially in nations like Japan, where it’s not out of the ordinary already to encounter helpful robots in a consumer-facing environment.

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AI and new consumption patterns

And, finally, AI might impact the wine industry in completely unexpected ways. For example, if self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles replace traditional cars and vehicles, then that might have a very dramatic impact on consumption. “Drinking and driving” would no longer be a concern, for example, because AI-powered algorithms would become your new designated driver. Some have suggested that cars will become the equivalent of rolling entertainment centres – with people listening to music, playing video games –and, yes, drinking wine, as they make their way from Point A to Point B.

Certainly, the AI future is a very exciting one. As AI gets applied to every aspect of the wine experience, it will change how we buy and consume wine, how we talk about wine, and how we grow the grapes used to make wine. And, along the way, AI might change how we package wine, how we market wine, and how we deliver wine to consumers. Just imagine a future where AI-powered Amazon drones drop off a bottle of wine at your doorstep after you agree to an AI-powered recommendation from Amazon Alexa, and then you enjoy that bottle of wine with a few of your closest robot friends.