Grapevine: The Consequences of Technology in Society and the Wine Industry

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

It’s becoming palpable. Not a day goes by that I don’t witness the marvels of evolving technologies and their influence on business, productivity and society. Nary a day goes by that I wonder about the future influence of technologies.

But until recently, I hadn’t taken a step back from the ever-changing landscape of technology’s impact on our personal lives. Too consumed in engaging the technological impact as it revolutionizes manufacturing industries, service industries and my personal productivity, I lost sight of the evolving, some might say devolving, role of humans in the future fabric of industries and society.

We’ve all come to realize that technology, in its many forms, has come to dominate our lives in numerous ways. Hard technology, such as sophisticated robots on production lines, is replacing human labor. Soft technology manages the operating systems of factories, replacing engineers. Complex business and scientific applications, controlled by self-contained programs, are accelerating the imbedded presence and influence of software, reducing, even eliminating, the need for human intervention.

And, lest I lose focus of the subject matter of this column, I’ve watched as technology has slowly become imbedded in the production of wine, notwithstanding considerable pushback from a hard core of traditional winemakers.

I read with considerable interest a recent article in The New York Times by Eduardo Porter. Titled “Contemplating the end of the human workhorse,” Porter reflected on the role of the workhorse prior to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the combustible engine. For centuries, workhorses were the mainstay and the backbone of the United States economy, from transporting mail across long distances, to carrying travelers to their destinations, to performing many farming chores. The invention of locomotives, autos and farming machines brought about an unintended consequence: the demise of the role of the workhorse.

Porter posited that to a certain extent, the invention of the computer chip may create a similar dilemma for human labor. Robots, artificial intelligence, software programs and smartphone applications have eliminated the jobs of many middle age workers.

The new jobs created every day from advanced technology capabilities are not able to be filled by these workers; there is a misalignment of skills. Workers have dropped out of the workforce (and the reported unemployment statistics) due to the pervasive usurpation of human jobs by technology. Ironically, thousands of newly created technology jobs are unfilled due to a lack of trained professionals.

Pardon my rant. Allow me to refocus to the specific impact of technology on the production of wine.

Of all the costs of managing a winery, beyond capital costs, labor dominates. For centuries, workers have plied their skills in the vineyards and the winery. Slowly at first, but recently accelerating, technology has been creeping into wineries. Here are several examples:

–Science is developing new grapevine clones utilizing DNA advances and sophisticated modeling programs. These grapevines are more drought tolerant, disease resistant, and better suited to specific soils and microclimates. The consequence? Fewer field workers needed to manage the crops.

–Mechanical equipment is increasingly sophisticated, able to plant, prune and harvest grapevines more efficiently than the army of field workers previously required. The consequence? Displaced field workers.

–Drone technology enables winemakers to survey the progress of grapevines during the growing season, providing vital statistics to ensure optimal crops. The consequence? Old-line oenologists have been replaced by computer reports, which must be interpreted by a smaller group of new-breed oenologists.

–New diagnostic tools analyze the growing environment of vineyards in real time, enabling cost savings in soil conditioners, fertilizers and water – all meant to increase yields and wine quality. The consequence? Higher quality wines, at the cost of displaced workers and field oenologists.

Where is technology leading us? Several economists have forecast that a significant number of today’s jobs will be replaced by technology during the lifetime of the Millennials. The consequence? Let’s not wait to find out. Rather, let’s find ways to optimize technology but stay ahead of the seeming inevitability of technological dominance.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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