Before Covid-19, South Africa was lagging behind many other countries in the move to e-commerce and online shopping. But the pandemic has changed all that, and South Africa is now catching on to the trend, says Daneel Rossouw, functional head of agriculture at Nedbank’s relationship channels.
“The result was online wine sellers reporting triple-digit sales growth in 2020. But the effects of greater emphasis on technology is spilling over into other aspects of the wine value chain – everything from distribution, marketing, sales and even tracking consumer behaviour and preferences.”
Max Tegmark said, “Everything we love about civilisation is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping civilisation flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.”
Whether the envisioned benefits realise will depend on whether the technology is put to good use. “In a business, the purpose of using technology should be very clear,” Daneel advises, “whether it’s in the marketing or production side of the business, or anywhere in between. There must always be positive leverage from using A.I.”
When properly harnessed, big data holds great potential for marketing strategies, and A.I. will be key to unlocking these large datasets. “The impact of knowing what people buy, where they buy it, and at what price bracket is potentially massive. On the production side, we have also seen huge improvements in the usability of data and technology – early problem detection and precision applications of water or pesticides, for example, impact yields, quality and cost savings. I believe that the cost-to-benefit ratio is real and that it will be a differentiator for profitability going forward.”
Big data can provide a valuable head start by enabling producers to figure out which wines people will want to drink in the not-so-distant future, and therefore which grapes to plant. “The potential for growth is staggering. China consumes 16 billion litres of wine every year with 50% of these customers buying online. It’s our hope that our winemakers and marketers will embrace technology with gusto, to enable our fantastic wines to compete on a level playing field in global marketplaces,” Daneel adds.
In Europe, A.I. is successfully being implemented to mitigate the effects of drought, fluctuation in temperatures and changes in harvest times, says Daneel. “A company called Naio Technologies in France has developed a robot that’s a highly precise weeding tool for vineyards and a great alternative to the traditional chemical weed killer methods, thus having a positive effect on the environment as well.”
Technology has also driven innovations from planting and harvesting to packing, distribution and sales. “Drones are becoming commonplace in the vineyard, for more precise pest control and data-gathering, and some wineries are even harnessing the power of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the US to map which varietals to plant where, based on the analysis of heat and wind patterns. There are wine-processing tools that improve harvesting, sorting, settling and filtration. There’s even an app that analyses wine labels to understand what drives consumers to make a purchase.”
Armed for change
WineCab is an American company that offers wine storage management systems with an A.I. sommelier and robotic arm to pick your wine. The technology is being offered to wineries and industry experts as a distributor opportunity, as well as directly to consumers.
“The A.I. sommelier downloads a database of facts from Delectable, so it has a knowledge base to pull from,” explains founder and CEO Mark Chaney. “As the system is used, the technology learns its users’ preferences and adapts to serve them.”
From its slick aesthetics and state-of-the-art functionality to pure bragging rights, the appeal is obvious. “Wineries and collectors love the humidity control, the concept that they can access their inventory at the touch of a button, and the fact that they have access to tasting notes from our partner Delectable,” Mark says.
Covid-19 has had been both good and bad for WineCab. “Spending more time at home has sparked interest in adapting new technology and renewed interest in renovating, but we’ve found that it’s been difficult to show off our product to large swaths of the population.”
WineCab’s primary markets are high-net worth individuals and wine collectors with an interest in technology. They are also targeting restaurants, private clubs and hotels with impressive wine collections they’d like to show off to their guests. “There are so many new opportunities in the hospitality and wine industry for new technology,” Mark says. “We’re looking at new ways to incorporate our technology into restaurants and apartment complexes.”
Mark sees personal service robotics in the home as the next stage of development for robotics. “Innovations in robotics and A.I. are changing daily. We’re fortunate to have the staff and ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.”
Although WineCab has not sold any units outside of the USA yet, they plan to roll out in more countries soon. In the meantime, the company is continuing to innovate and will introduce several new ways to use the technology in the coming year.
Chances are good you’ll be tasting your first wine from an A.I. sommelier sooner than you think.