How AI is transforming the world of wine – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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How is AI transforming the world of wine? On April 14th, 2024 – during Vinitaly – Felicity Carter covered this topic in a masterclass. Felicity Carter is the founder of B2B media company Drinks Insider and a well-known writer for Meiningers International, Decanter, Live-Ex and many other global wine publications. She is renowned for her laser-sharp insights and long experience in the wine industry.

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic across many disciplines and wine is no exception: for a Masterclass that offered no wine tasting, “How AI is transforming the world of wine” drew a big crowd during Vinitaly. The audience represented a cross-section of ages and careers in the wine industry, demonstrating the understanding across the sector that AI is bound to impact our business sooner rather than later. Carter began by saying she intended to give us “an overview, not a geeky deep dive” into the topic. Her definition of AI was “a field of computer science that allows machines to pretend to have human intelligence and do tasks.” She explained that “Narrow AI” focuses on one task, whereas “Strong AI” is capable of thinking on its own.

Carter went on to say that AI is all about ending the era of industrialization. At the moment, 30% of what humans do now is currently automated and, by 2025, 50% of human tasks will be automated. It is already predicted that AI will write a best-selling book by 2027. Scary facts and figures, right? Carter turned the conversation to the positive effects AI could have on the wine industry. She said that AI will be used for “personalization” for producers and consumers. The areas of analytics, marketing efficiency, pricing, logistics, fine wine’s use of new data and matching consumer preference to wine availability will all be improved through the use of AI.

Marketing and journalism in wine are already seeing the effects of AI. Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, has turned editors and writers into “content creators.” However, Carter posits that, despite AI’s ability to analyze consumer behavior and data, only 38% of people in the wine business are using AI to create content. Carter herself says AI has “blown up [her] production by 300%” and she is using AI apps to transcribe audio interviews to text, saving hours of time.”

Big AI companies are now personalizing for individual consumers. Many apps and systems can still be annoying to use, similar to predictive text that gets things wrong periodically, and many, if not most, still need a human to oversee the final result. Carter explained that the problems we see are due to the fact that “AI uses the internet to get its material and most of what’s available on the internet in the wine industry is bland, positive marketing.” As online marketing improves, AI’s ability to create better content will improve as well.

The vineyard is another area of the wine sector that will be affected by AI: Carter pointed to mapping, disease detection, precision farming and weather detection, all of which are speeded up by the use of AI in collating all the data and analyzing it as one body. As an example of good AI practice in Italian vineyards, Carter mentioned CAVIT in Trentino, one of the world’s biggest wine co-operatives, with 11 wineries, 13 agronomists, 5,250 winegrowers and 140 different types of soils. CAVIT uses an app attached to a GPS system to help reduce water use and select appropriate clones and varieties.

In the USA, Carter looked at the fact that the country loses $3 billion per year due to vine disease, which AI apps will be able to detect faster in order to treat earlier. Labor shortage is also a problem worldwide and the development of AI and robotics will fill this gap over time. There is already a pruning app that teaches humans how and where to prune each individual plant. With more sensors going into vineyards worldwide, eventually, agronomists will be able to get precision weather forecasts which will allow enough time to prevent damage in the vineyards. The only area where AI has not really entered the wine industry so far is the winemaking stage of the process.

Carter brought up several points about AI’s weaknesses as well. Prediction of consumer taste has proved expensive and difficult as “often our wine choices are based on occasion, rather than the wine itself, “ Carter remarked. “Taste is socially mediated, people like what is around them and what everyone else is drinking.

The big takeaway from “How AI is transforming the world of wine” was how to make the benefits of AI more visible to wineries. It’s clear that the cost of precision viticulture is currently prohibitive for small producers at the moment, but that will likely change very quickly as more technology evolves, more competition enters the AI market and the price of installation goes down. However, it is interesting to note that the majority of wineries around the world don’t use AI in any capacity whatsoever. How to convince wineries of AI’s potential benefits will be a challenge for the developing AI industry.

April 24, 2024
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