Wine Product Managers Start To Use AI

Technology may be required in order to save the grape crop
Technology may be required in order to save the grape crop
Image Credit: Wondergreece

Product managers who have picky customers have a difficult job. Wine product managers have very picky customers and may have the toughest jobs of all. Wine is all about taste and a sensitive customer’s tongue can detect a great deal about the grapes that are used to make a particular bottle of wine. This can be good news for a wine product manager – a good tasting bottle of wine can sell for a lot. However, a bad tasting bottle of wine might not sell at all. Wildfires in California might impact how this season’s grapes taste. What’s a product manager to do?

Grapes And Wildfires

Out in California, winemaker product managers are using artificial intelligence to help salvage grapes damaged by smoke from the state’s massive wildfires. The peak harvesting season is coming up and dozens of vintners are using an AI-powered model to identify viable blending options that will mask unwanted smoky flavors. Product managers know that narrowing the options in how the wines are produced can reduce production delays and get wines onto store shelves faster, compared with the time and expertise needed to taste-test as many variations as possible. When there have been wildfires in California in the past the AI software helped mitigate the loss of over 300,000 cases of wine for more than 100 California producers.

Product managers understand that blending in smoke-tainted grapes adds an extra layer of complexity to the winemaking process. Product managers have used the AI system to help find a blend that successfully incorporated smoke-tinged grapes into a Pinot Noir. So far this year, in California wildfires have burned more than 2.4 million acres in 104 large blazes nationwide, double the expanse at this time last year. In California, wildfires have burned more than 1.3 million acres so far this year, compared with some 890,332 acres burned at this point last year. At some winemakers, roughly a quarter of their grapes were damaged by wildfire smoke last year, including up to 10% that were “highly impacted by smoke”. The full effect this year won’t be known until grapes are harvested.

The reason that product managers are facing this problem is because when wood burns, it releases compounds known as volatile phenols that can cause an overpowering chemical, smoky and ashy taste in grapes and the wines they produce. The good news is that smoky can be part of a wine’s complex flavor profile. However, product managers realize that too much is unpalatable. In the case where levels are high enough to cause what is called a “taint” – commonly referred to as “smoke taint” – it can make wine unsalable. The problem that product managers are facing is that there isn’t a reliable method for winemakers to predict how severe smoke damage will be and vineyards have no fail-safe way to protect grapes from unwanted smoke.

Using AI To Save A Crop Of Wine

Solving the problem of how to deal with grapes that have been exposed to wildfire smoke is where AI comes in. Chemical analyses are conducted on the many chemical compounds in different grapes to create unique flavor profiles. The profiles are then converted into digital form, and include intricate combinations of multiple flavor characteristics such as cherry or chocolate. That data is then combined with a data set of digitized responses from proprietary consumer-palate surveys. In the survey, participants are asked if they like black coffee, the smell of fresh cut grass, and hundreds of other sensory-related questions. An AI model will then analyze all of the data on compounds and survey responses together in order to identify patterns of combinations that predict which blends will have the biggest market.

The use of AI does not stop there. AI can also be used to analyze the level of smoke damage in grapes. The goal is to provide consumer insights into product manager’s products. If grapes are tainted by smoke, the profiles and the AI can run all kinds of combinations of compounds to arrive at a blend that most people will like. Product managers are pleased that so far, the system has proven to be more than 90% accurate in predicting consumer-product scores on a range of wines.

The AI software can be used to blend wines for customers, including larger buyers. This blending includes wines that incorporate smoke-tainted grapes. The work with the AI software has dramatically increased the product manager’s efficiencies from a blending standpoint. Product managers need to realize that AI isn’t about to replace the expertise of vintners, who will always rely on tasting to make a final determination on blends. The software tool should be viewed as being one more way to make sure that the product has been created correctly.

What All Of This Means For You

All product managers have to be aware of what their customers are looking for in the products that they deliver. We understand that our customers can be picky and we need to make sure that we deliver products that will meet their unique needs. Wine product managers have an especially difficult challenge on their hands. Their customers can be among the most picky and difficult to please. Just to make things a bit more difficult, the wildfires in California may have an impact on how the grapes that are used to make wines taste.

The challenge that the wine product managers are dealing with is that the wildfires that are burning in California may affect the grapes before they are harvested. What can happen is that the taste of the grapes can take on more of a smoky flavor. This can have an impact on the taste of the wine that is made from those grapes. In order to deal with this issue, wine product managers are turning to AI software to get suggestions on how the new grapes can be combined with other wines in order to produce wine that tastes good. The AI software can narrow the options for how the wines are blended and this can result in the wine making it to stores more quickly. Profiles of what kinds of tastes end users like have been created and these are used to determine how best to go about combining grapes with wines.

Wine product managers have a real problem on their hands. The impact that smoke can have on their grapes can easily start to show up in the wines that are made from those grapes. However, with the arrival of AI software that can help them determine how their smoky grapes can be combined with other wines in order to make a good tasting wine, their crop can be saved. We’ll have to watch and see how well their smoky grape blended wines end up selling.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that wine product managers should use software or humans to blend their smoky grapes?

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