Amidst the farmsteads and vineyards dotted around the gentle farmed hillsides of the Langhe, an area in Northern Italy in the Piedmont region, famous for its wines, truffles and fine meat, the harvesting of Nebbiolo grapes, one of the most prestigious wines in the world, was completed a couple of months ago. With its ruby red colour and fruity bouquet, recalling raspberries and violets, cinnamon and vanilla, Barbaresco owes its uniqueness to the care lavished on its vineyards. The same vineyards, which, for some time now, have been closely followed by a technological system based on sensors monitoring the lifespan, growth and requirements of each individual plant or grape.
International technical journals have already dubbed this practice “the Internet of wine”, because the application of such systems really does make the vineyard sustainable, by controlling its progress and reducing costs. Aspects that are sure to interest producers who are still tied to more traditional working methods, since they contribute to obtaining products that are not only increasingly natural but also able to guarantee a more certain yield.
In the Barbaresco vineyards owned by the Cantine Gaja, an Italian start-up called iXem Labs is at work, along with a professor-sommelier from Turin Polytechnic who has distributed micro-cameras around the vineyards for taking high definition images and sensors for collecting data such as the moisture levels of the atmosphere and land, air and soil temperatures and weather conditions. The objective is to provide information to farmers regarding the presence of pests, the need for more intense irrigation or protection from frost or excessive heat.
It is difficult to transfer data in rural areas where connections are somewhat erratic: this was one of the obstacles that had to be overcome by the start-up. It did so by setting up Wi-Fi connections between the rows of vines to enable sensors and junction boxes to intercommunicate and to provide a sort of control panel to producers so that they can monitor the growth of individual plants in the vineyard. It is possible to monitor the situation 24 hours a day: this presupposes the existence of micro-cameras empowered to work at night in the dark, while also keeping the promise of low costs, making this an opportunity available to small wine growing businesses as well as important ones like that of Gaja del Barbaresco, where the project is now in course.
The so-called Internet of wine also works in other areas where the most prestigious Italian wines are produced: for instance, it is also operative in a generous wine growing land like that of Tuscany. In the areas of Montalcino and Montepulciano, in Siena province, sensors are monitoring the vineyards where Brunello di Montalcino is produced from Sangiovese grapes along with Nobile di Montepulciano, two full-bodied red wines of great character and greatly appreciated all over the world.
The idea of applying technology to agricultural products and their seasonal development, in order to improve on the work of man and optimize production in Italy, is a challenge that has also been taken up by other start-ups. In Sardinia, for instance, close to Alghero, a well-known seaside resort facing Spain, a local start-up called Primo Principio is working on a similar project: the technology is called WiForWine and it also makes use of sensors and video cameras to monitor the climate, soil, plants and any other possible threat to the vineyards (for example, allowing the use of fertilizers and pesticides to be reduced to a minimum quantity). In this case, the wine to benefit is the excellent Vermentino white wine whose fragrance recalls sandy soils and Mediterranean shrubs. By monitoring the growth of vines, WiForWine provides a day by day account of the grapes’ entire lifespan, until they are finally harvested. A story that may become a sort of video documentary for showing to enthusiasts. On their cell phone, perhaps, as they enjoy a glass of the same wine.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.