Sensors, Internet of Things and Vineyards.

Helping the Grape Industry survive through Climate Change.

By Theo Kontogiannis

I think I was about 5 years old when I witnessed the planting of a new vineyard for the very first time. There is something mesmerizing about observing a plant grow, especially when you are a kid. I remember waiting, checking the height, counting the leaves, getting ready for the big moment when the first grapes would appear. This was more than 25 years ago and I still feel the same excitement, the same feeling of belonging as well as a sense of responsibility. These vines are fragile, too delicate for this world. What my family business has taught me is that winemaking is a high-risk process that requires timely decisions, efficiency and efficacy.

We’re at a turning point in the grape sector. There are incidents that prove climate change is affecting wine production in unforeseen ways. The call to action is not easy because it demands changing habits and practices: from adopting new cultivation techniques to finding ways of preserving traditional grape varieties, while also fighting diseases in a fast and efficient way.

There are 75 million tons of grapes produced each year, making it one of the world’s largest fruit crops, with the highest level of technological input in both management and production. Grapes have the highest production value in the world. One of the segments of this market is the wine industry, which is booming: there are more than one million winemakers in the world, producing around 2.8bn cases of wine each year. Global demand is rising, but the global wine industry is changing shape, with the old world gradually losing its crown.

We all get it — Europe is at a turning point as it needs to keep the winemaking quality standards high, while at the same time fighting against one of the biggest vine-killers of all time (after phylloxera): Climate Change.

This is a tough time to be a winemaker, but farming is always like this :)

Here is the good news. The grape industry is not alone. The data revolution is here to help overcome this obstacle by taking advantage of the greatest asset after the crop itself: its data.

What we know for sure is that in recent times, the digitalization of the European vineyard is a fast-growing trend. With the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), we have the ability to collect real-time data from different phases of the farming and winemaking process so we can predict diseases and optimize the production process.

Despite the abundance of tools to capture and manage this data, we still need to make the most out of the latest technological advancements in order to “ride the big data wave”.

That is why working for the BigDataGrapes project is like working for my family. For the first time researchers, vintners, breeders, winemakers and natural cosmetics companies are sitting around the same table, ready to exploit technological advancements that are allowing them to make faster and more reliable decisions.

This is also the first step in enabling the creation of a single, digital grape market, where data can be exchanged to support services and decision making processes.

This could not have happened without the support of a coalition of strong research and industrial partners across Europe that are helping us perform actions with great impact, like:

  • Wine producers, bottlers and distributors making critical decisions and setting long term strategies
  • Producers and packagers of food and wine products continuously monitoring the quality of their products and assessing risks
  • Natural cosmetic companies getting the best supplies of grape by-products that will benefit consumers’ health
  • Software companies developing precision agriculture and quality control application that will enable more accurate predictions and efficient data processing

The knowledge that we have gathered from years of observation and data collection is leading to new paths. We are enabling all parts of the grape value chain to harness the capabilities of big data processing and artificial intelligence. More importantly, we are creating a grape data ecosystem that will enable researchers, software developers, entrepreneurs and winemakers to thrive by creating innovative services and products.

Thodoris Kontogiannis (theo@agroknow.com) is Business Development Manager in Agroknow and runs with his family the Kontogiannis Winery.

You can see the full deck of the Project Big Data Grapes, here