Have you ever wondered how that bottle of wine ended up on your counter? Of course, you probably have an idea of the process of making wine – that much I don’t need to tell you. But have you ever really stopped to think of what the journey of a grape, from farm to factory to the warehouse to your counter, actually looks like?
That’s right, we’re talking about the wine supply chain.
In this blog, we follow how a grape is turned into wine and ends up in your wine glass through IoT.
We’ll talk about everything from planting to harvesting to bottling to distribution, and specifically, how IoT affects or interacts with each of those steps within the wine supply chain.
Step 1: Planting and Monitoring the Grapes on the Vine
The process of making wine starts in the vineyard. For lack of a better word, the vineyard is essentially a farm. Within the vineyard, there are microclimates (the climate of a very small or restricted area, especially when this differs from the climate of the surrounding area) just as you would find on any other farm. Most vineyards are on hills or the sides of mountains which can mean the soil will vary greatly. All of the variation, the climate, the weather, the soil moisture, can affect the grapes, the varietals, how well they grow, and how well they taste.
Historically, people have kept manual logs of different observations around the vineyards, sometimes even mapping those areas into grids to track how elements affect each grid or quadrant. Elements such as weather – rain or sun – soil moisture, composition, even planting density (although the proof of this has yet to be seen) all play a part in telling the farmer how much yield was created from each quadrant of the vineyard, and which of factors played the biggest part.
Many use those metrics to evaluate the quality of the wine at the end of production. Did one quadrant receive more rain than another and that explains why the flavor is more robust? Has the planting density, “the number of individual vines in a given area”, played a part even though experiments have yet to prove this idea? Using data to measure quality is common, even while planting grapes.
There are many opportunities to use automated monitoring tools and sensors to understand the data, the weather, soil moisture, and composition, beyond the initial observations or note-taking. Being able to use sensors, automatically report data collected, and drive decisions based on those findings is incredibly beneficial. IoT plays a greater part than many realize in the wine supply chain.
The use of sensors in farming is similar to how SensrTrx uses sensors in the factory, but exclusively for a farm, and there are many experienced companies succeeding in this area. These companies use their resources and expertise to monitor tractors and other farm equipment, chemicals on the field, soil moisture, yield, and so much more.
For example, if there’s a smart sprinkler, and that sprinkler sees there’s a 75% chance of rain, it’s not going to turn on. Or, if it’s rained 3 out of the last 4 days, and the soil is moist, it knows not to run because the moisture in the soil is higher than the baseline.
With the use of sensors, growers can get more granular information of what’s happening in the vineyard which inevitably, helps make a better product.
That’s step 1 of using IoT to monitor what’s going on in the vineyard, in real-time.
Step 2: Harvesting the Grapes
When the grapes have reached maturity, it’s time to harvest, load the grapes onto trucks, and deliver to the factory for wine production. IoT plays a large part once grapes are loaded onto trucks for delivery to the factory.
When the grapes are harvested and pulled off of the vines, the decaying process begins almost immediately. To prevent accelerating decay, the grapes must be kept cold, which is often why they are picked at night and placed into bins to avoid the harsh sunlight.
Once the grapes are picked and collected into bins, they’re placed onto a truck where the sensor’s temperature and shock measurements come into play. If the vineyards are far away from where the winery is, which happens often, monitoring the temperature of the grapes as they’re transported becomes vital. Tracing the individual blocks and rows the bins are placed in within the trucks will help monitor if the temperature remains constant and the grapes aren’t dropped. If either of these becomes an issue, the sensor will send out an alert.
Beyond the blocks and rows, you could also track the trucks themselves. Where is the truck? How long is it going to take to arrive at the factory? When will it arrive? Again, IoT, and specifically, sensors, play a large part in obtaining that level of visibility.
Step 3: Turning Grapes into Wine
At this step, the grapes are ready to be made into wine. Essentially, the manufacturer will crush the grapes and ferment them. Sounds simple, right? But, in reality, there’s a great deal of precision that is required during this step of the wine supply chain.
“The temperature of a fermentation has a direct influence on the quality of the wine,” so monitoring the temperature fluctuations is imperative. Too hot or too cold and you’ve potentially ruined the batch of wine. Fermentation requires a delicate balance. “For winemakers, the goal is to be able to control the fermentation temperature within a desired range for the style of wine [they] are trying to make while never allowing it to get too hot.”
And how is this done? With IoT sensors of course.
The fermentation process requires great precision, but once completed, wine is poured into an oak barrel for aging and moved to a warehouse for storage. How long the wine stays in storage varies from winemaker to winemaker.
You may want to tag and trace the barrels of wine, using RFID tags or beacons, keeping an inventory of how many times the barrels have been used, what kind of wine was stored, and for how long in each of those barrels. Believe it or not, it is possible to wear out a barrel which is why IoT tracing can play an important part in the business.
The RFID tags and beacons on the barrels can also tell you where the barrels are in a specific area of the warehouse and most importantly, the temperature and humidity of those areas. Whether the wine is stored in a cave or a traditional warehouse, tracking temperature and humidity is vital, as we’ve learned in other parts of the process.
It’s even possible to track the racking, or soutirage, process – moving wine out of one barrel and putting it in another to remove the sediment. Or, the use of IoT “bugs” within the barrels themselves will monitor what’s happening with the wine inside of the barrel. This would be beneficial for the taste testers, the person who takes a sample to try themselves or to a lab for testing.
The wine will be stored for quite a long time, however long each manufacturer deems necessary for that style of wine. When ready, the wine will move to the bottling stage.
Step 4: Filling the Bottles
A few days before the bottling process is set to begin, the wine is moved from the oak barrels into stainless steel tanks. On the day of, the wine is pumped from the tanks into the filling system which will then be used to fil the bottles.
The bottles are delivered to the factory, often from an external distributor, and loaded into the bottling machine. As the bottles move down the conveyor, the filling system fills the bottles. IoT plays a big part in this step of the process by giving manufacturers insight into how quickly the bottles are filled and evaluating quality metrics to ensure the bottles are filled to the right levels. If a problem has occurred, maybe the filling machine stops working or the conveyor slows, the sensors attached will send out a notification that there’s a problem.
The goal of IoT supply chain at this step is to provide value in getting visibility into the process and knowing if you’re on track to “win the day” or meet your goals.
An interesting, but unique to the wine industry, use case for IoT is corking. Many may not know this, but in winemaking, one of the biggest potential issues in bottling is the cork itself – tainted corks to be exact. Roughly 1 in 12 wine bottles go bad because of bacteria in the corks. It’s often difficult to detect if there are bacteria in the cork before bottling. If you could use IoT to detect the bacteria, before it’s corked, you can eliminate the headache of a bad product being delivered to your customers.
Once the wine is bottled, the labels are attached. With sensors, you can monitor that labeling is done correctly. The sensor will track if a label has been put on sideways, or not at all, and alert the operator of that line to scrap that particular bottle.
When the bottle has been filled and properly labeled, the finished product is loaded into cases. Packaging may be automatic, or it may not, but at this stage, the key metric to monitor is efficiency. How many wine bottles are you putting into cases and boxing up?
Step 5: Distributing the Wine
Once packaging is completed, the wine is once again, moved back to the warehouse. Cases of wine are put onto pallets and loaded into trucks to be distributed to areas around the country or world.
It should come as no surprise that humidity and temperature are key metrics to track while the wine is traveling to its destination. The wine is very susceptible to temperature at this stage because the trucks can get too hot, especially during summer months, which would ruin the final product. Typically, winemakers ship the products in a temperature-controlled truck, but sensors are still used to ensure temperature and humidity standards are met.
Sensors also are used to monitor shock and if the case or pallet of wine has been dropped. CargoX, an IoT startup based in Brazil is working to “fix trucking’s most difficult problems” with, you guessed it, sensors, even going as far as monitoring thefts. The trucking industry is innovating rapidly with the use of IoT supply chain to help manufacturers, like winemakers.
The wine is then delivered to its destination where it will once more go through a distribution cycle but on a smaller scale. It’s stored in a warehouse where temperature and humidity remain, again, important metrics to track. When ready to be shipped to its final destination, a truck is loaded with the wine to deliver to a restaurant, a gas station, or a liquor store.
And, finally, that wine is bought by you and enjoyed.
The influence of the IoT supply chain is growing rapidly, and in the case of the wine supply chain, specifically, provides immense benefits in delivering a final product to the customer, you. So, next time you buy a bottle of wine at your favorite restaurant, think about the steps it took to get to your table, and the likelihood that IoT played an important part.