Winemaking is an age-old practice, traditionally known for it's needs for hands-on processes and very long production times. With today's technology, there are plenty of winemaking automation tools out there that can bring your winemaking into the 21st Century.
Robotic and smart technology is perfect for automating winemaking in vineyards and wineries. Read on to learn more about how automation can help improve your winemaking process from start to finish.
Automation at the Vineyard
Winemaking automation tools are precisely what you need to improve efficiency and quality at your vineyard. You can automate almost every stage of this part of the winemaking process, from planting the seeds to picking the grapes.
Typically, many tasks in the vineyard are fulfilled by manual laborers, but this can be a time-consuming and sometimes inefficient process. Given such uncertainty, the quality of your wine can suffer if your workers are not high performers. After all, it can be all too easy for a worker to falter in the face of the repetitive tasks of planting, fertilizing, picking, and sorting.
Utilizing robotic technology to automate the process can be cost-effective, help you avoid human error, and improve the winemaking process at your vineyard. You can also use smart technology linked to your devices to automate specific aspects of your planting and harvesting.
Researchers are exploring many options for using robots to plant in many agricultural settings, including managing vineyard crops. These prototypes can plant many seeds simultaneously and handle the entire planting process.
The existing models are robots who drive to the planting site, use a hollow tube to dig a hole, and plant a seedling using compressed air mechanisms. Then, the robot can pack in the surrounding earth, just as you would if planting the seeds yourself.
You can automate your plant monitoring using robotic technology or smart devices.
After planting is complete, robots can monitor the plants for you. In fact, robots are likely better-suited to monitoring tasks than a human thanks to their advanced technology.
Robot plant monitors use color cameras, thermography, and even GPS devices to collect vital information about your crops. They can learn about plant health and collect agronomical and physiological data from the vineyards they operate in. These robots also include specific technology to measure nitrogen levels in leaves and grape pigment color.
Once you have the data your robot tool collects, you can make decisions that will benefit your plants and your vineyard.
There are plenty of smart devices that can automate the processes without taking complete control, perfect for vineyards that are not ready for full-on robotic technology,
For instance, some programs can monitor the health of grapevines and alert vineyards to any invasive species that appear among the plants. There are also smart devices and tools to monitor soil hydration, temperature, and other factors that impact important decisions in winemaking.
You can often control these devices directly from your smartphone or other devices, enabling you to keep an eye on your plant health from a distance. Even better, many of them also link directly to smart irrigation units that can respond if your plants need them.
Robotic technology can prune your plants just as well as a human manual laborer. The automation robot can create 3D models of the vines as it travels through the vineyard to identify which leaves and canes need pruning. Internal software then directs the robot to cut and keep specific plant parts as it prunes.
The pruning robots use a spinning cutting tool to ensure clean and specific cuts. These robots then learn which parts to prune by reviewing examples of experts pruning the same plants. This is all integrated into the technology.
Some robots can also pull weeds throughout the vineyard and perform other maintenance tasks. These tasks include mowing, mulching, spraying, and side trimming.
Although still automated, grape picking is the least advanced technology in winemaking automation. The process itself is less high-tech than the robotic technologies discussed above.
Essentially, mechanical grape harvesters shake and vibrate the vines until the grapes fall off the vine. A conveyor catches the grapes and transports them to storage bins. However, this is less than ideal because it does not allow the robot to select only the best grapes from each vine.
Even though these technologies tend to be less advanced than some of their counterparts for other parts of the process, they still save time and money. Still, while the picking process does not sort the grapes as they go, they do allow you to select your grapes without relying on others to do the job for you.
What’s more, other technologies can be used to sort the grapes by quality, which we will discuss below. As a result, your grapes will still be sorted via automation technology once the grapes are collected.
Automation at Wineries
Once you have the grapes from your vineyard, you can use automation technologies to speed up the process of turning your grapes into wine. Technology can accelerate sorting, fermenting, and packaging your wine into bottles for sale.
As with the process of growing and harvesting your grapes, automated robotic technologies can improve the quality and efficiency of your winemaking. You will no longer be completely reliant on a predominantly organic workforce and the risks of humor error associated with that.
After you have your grapes, you will need to sort them into quality grades. Sorting mechanisms often provide multiple functions, such as destemming, removing foreign objects, and sorting by quality.
These devices will remove pesky stems from the grapes before they go into the fermentation tanks and clear anything else that should not be there. Grapes often come from vineyards accompanied by small insects, twigs, or other foreign objects you definitely don't want in your wine.
Using technology to sort the grapes is significantly faster than relying on humans to do the job. In particular, it is faster and less likely for human error to occur in the process. The sorting technology uses a line-scan camera to image the fruit before determining its quality based on the size and color.
Once the grapes are sorted, technology is available to crush the grapes to prepare for fermenting. Many wineries automate this process by using robotic lagares that imitate the crushing of grapes via a human foot. This reduces the need for laborers to crush the grapes while still preserving the seeds of the grapes.
Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the skins and juice are placed into fermentation tanks to become wine. Depending on the type of wine (red or white), the skins may be separated before entering the tank. Red wine will generally be fermented for a shorter time and at a higher temperature than white wine.
In the tanks, yeasts transform the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol. This can create a lot of heat, which is bad for the final wine product. Because of the dangers of heat for the finished wine, the temperature of the fermenting liquid must be carefully controlled.
The easiest way to control the temperature is by using a winery chiller unit and a solenoid-operated diaphragm valve, which is popular in the winemaking industry due to its reliability.
Winery chillers are refrigeration tanks that often use an automated temperature regulation system to control the temperature of the fermenting wine. The ideal ranges for wine fermentation are between 70 and 85 degrees F (20-30 degrees C) for red and between 45 and 60 degrees F (7-16 degrees C) for white.
Using an automated system reduces the human error associated with the constant monitoring of manual shut-off valves by utilizing electric valves and temperature control systems. They also allow you to maintain the perfect temperature for the type of wine you make.
Bottling and Packaging
Once your wine is ready for bottling, you can use automation tools to create an efficient and hands-off production line. Empty wine bottles are transferred to a conveyor belt. They are cleaned, filled, corked, and capped by automated technology and machines.
The automation system inspects the bottles to ensure they are correctly corked and filled to the appropriate level. If not, they are removed from the line for human inspection. Bottles that pass inspection are packed into cases, stacked, and shipped to customers.
Once your wine is bottled and ready to go, you can use smart devices and technology to ensure it is stored appropriately. Many devices on the market allow you to monitor your storage area's temperature and humidity levels, alerting you if you need to make any changes to the environment.
These often work from a distance, letting you monitor your wine storage area from afar. You can usually adjust the temperature and humidity from your smartphone or other mobile devices. Automating the environment where you store your wine provides excellent peace of mind.
Many tools are available to vineyards and wineries to automate their winemaking process. Investing in innovative technologies can save you money by improving efficiency, maximizing productivity, reducing human error, and delivering consistent wine quality.
Modern winemaking automation tools are varied. They range from robotic technology to smart devices and systems, so you can choose whichever type of technology is the right fit to benefit your winemaking.