wine industry

French vineyards blow dust off the barrels and embrace a digital revolution in wine

Digital-media tools such as augmented reality, apps and online games have a vast potential to reinvigorate communication about wine.

Most commonly associated with notions such as tradition, authenticity and terroir, the French wine industry doesn’t instantly jump to mind as a leader in innovation. But its deep traditions are no impediment to finding new ways to showcase the sector’s know-how, enhance its reputation, and promote engagement with and exchanges about wine.

For France, the challenge is both commercial and cultural. While the wines of the Champagne and Burgundy regions were granted Unesco world-heritage status in July, the European single market is structured to empower the “free movement of goods and services”, with all the risks and opportunities that entails. To meet this challenge, in July 2014 a French senator proposed a bill emphasizing the importance of the wine industry’s shaking off some of its dust:

We must empower the important actors in the wine industry to better promote this patrimony and culture via new technologies, so as to not compromise its future. Such promotion has become urgent … in a context of global competition and conflicts between winemaking practices that are starkly different.

The text concludes by noting that the responsible enjoyment of wine and its culture requires knowledge and education – and today, its communication is necessarily digital.

The use of digital tools for purely commercial purposes has its place, of course, and it’s growing quickly: Just this year, more than 500 e-commerce websites accounted for more than 10% of the wine sold in France. Still, even double-digits sales increases can be offset by unforeseen events in a unpredictable and highly competitive market.

In the digital vineyards

The challenge is thus how to use digital media to convey the essence of wine itself. Many foods and beverages have leveraged digital communication, but wine, with its distinct character and evocative force, occupies a unique place in our society. Online tools must not only faithfully convey a wine’s image, but also create an experience that is every bit as vivid as the real thing, if not more so.

Here augmented reality has the potential to allow aficionados to interact with both physical and virtual environments – vineyards, cellars, exhibitions and catalogues.

One example is Bordeaux’s Cité du vin, which promises a “unique experience” with immersive interactive displays, virtual settings, fragrant environments and more. These experiential features are also part of the Cité des vins in Burgundy (Beaune). Both sites harness digital technologies to support three phases of the wine experience: awareness, exploration and appropriation.

By fully immersing us in the world of wine, digital media can enhance our subjectivity, and enable a kind of rediscovery of magic – “the willing suspension of disbelief“, as Coleridge put it. For example, virtual tours can be created through the use of drones, which capture aerial images of vineyards that are then remodelled. This opportunity to live in the present yet rediscover the world in new and wonderful ways is the promise of digital media.

Narrating the story of wine

While sensory immersion can open new doors, digital media is at its richest when it plays a narrative role. The most striking example of this is seen in the context of wine tourism. Already more than 10,000 vineyards, wine cellars and other facilities welcome more than 8m visitors annually – and the best is awarded the distinction Vignobles et Découvertes. Many regions have already developed digital apps that allow users to tour vineyards (Smart Bordeaux), follow wine trails and learn about local events (GeoVina Languedoc-Roussillon), or get involved in wine tourism (Œnotourisme Bourgogne). And an online game, Vinoga, combines social networking and e-commerce to put the user in the boots of a wine-maker.

While there’s still considerable room for the improvement of such apps, they make it clear that, when it comes to communication, a traditional website that conveys basic information – where, what, who and how – is no longer sufficient. Certain regions of France have worked to get this movement off the ground: A Nantes-based firm, Komka Vigneron, offers a customisable website adapted to the needs of winemakers and vineyards. Ultimately, effective marketing requires not only digital tools, but also a deep understanding of what a region can offer both nationally and internationally.

Together, such apps, websites and experiences can help build communities of wine enthusiasts. Furthermore, they all reflect a shared desire to be more conscious of the food and wine that we consume, to take back control, and to defend and share it.

Jean-Jacques Boutaud, Professeur en Sciences de l’information et de la communication, Université de Bourgogne

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.