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Monthly Report - March 2023

White Rabbit…

 

My gosh we are late for vintage in 2023 as the white rabbit was loudly exclaiming.  It is very unusual to not have completed vintage by early April – especially in the past decade or so.  I was waiting on completing this monthly report so as to have all the varieties picked off and reported on within the one page of scribblings – but as of today we are still waiting on the picking of the Shiraz and Cabernet Franc which are now inching their way to the fermenting tanks.  So slow in fact that at this stage we believe we may have the vintage complete sometime in mid-April and this is the latest we have been since the 2006 and 2008 vintages – almost a lifetime ago.

 

Below is a graph of the picking dates at Blue Poles over time – a total of 4 years over the past 18 did not produce a Blue Poles wine.  These missed years were a combination of poor fruit set, disease in the form of mildews, and ones that I just did not feel confident in producing as the fruit flavours were just lacking in some form.  Of the remaining vintages you can see the general trend of picking becoming earlier over time, with the latest picking date being 7 April 2014 in the past decade.  This trend may also relate to vine age, but there has also been a warming trend to match in with our vineyard’s growth.

202303_Chart - picking.jpg

But during March we have managed to pick off the white wines with the Chardonnay being picked on 1 & 2 March 2023.  And you may ask yourself, two days to pick the Chardonnay?  Well, that is how long it took Marjory and I to complete it ourselves (admittedly with help on 2 March from our friends Andrew and Sian), as the pickers we had organised never appeared – so one tonne of tiny bunches of Chardonnay were hunted down and sent through to Clive and the team at Fraser Gallop.  We are very fortunate with having these guys make our wines as they found a way to process the fruit using a basket press and put it to barrel for a lovely wild ferment – and it looks exciting as the weight of flavours are now starting to exert themselves and a little more oxidative pressing has made a bit more depth to the must and we hope resultant wine.  We owe them a beer.

 

Numbers for the Chardonnay are as below:

 

Picked:                            1-2 March

Weight:                           976kg

Beaumé:                         12.9

pH:                                   3.15

Total Acidity:                   7.5

202303_Chardonnay.jpg

Let them eat cake… Chardonnay Cake

 

As you can see the cool season has kept the acidity up with good ripeness levels – but in our case (against the trend of the region it appears), our tonnage was down and I believe my adherence to a dry grown vintage may have impacted on this as we have had such a dry dry season.

 

We had another week of dry weather and the tricky part of electing a date for the Marsanne was rushing up towards us – it is tricky as the Marsanne does not ripen on a nice even path, it jumps from one position to the next in what seems like a day.  Discussions with Brad Wehr who makes the “Lost on Mars” Marsanne at Amato Vino had 9 March as the date – better to retain the acidity and freshness in this fickle variety than make it all bloated with sugar, thus flavour and acid drops away.  A quick morning’s work had the 1.4t of large bunches of Marsanne in the bins and safely sent off to the Amato Vino secret lair (where the wonderful Alex Peters is now plying her trade – an ex-winemaker from Fraser Gallop Estate, and an extremely fit and energetic young lady, great to catch up once more).  Brad is not a big one for the technical numbers, but sugars came in at ~11.5-12.0 so lighter in alcohol for the resultant wine but a lovely punch of flavour once you add in the skin contact and the use of amphoras and old barrels and a bit of bâtonnage thrown in for good measure.

202303_Marsanne.jpg

Marsanne being loaded into Amato Vino’s overworked little press. Credit: Brad Wehr

 

I will keep the news on the red varieties until the April report – vintage will not be complete until mid-April at the earliest and this report is already behind schedule.  I really must use my time more wisely dear comrades….

 

Asimov was right…

I loved reading sci-fi books in my early teens – my favourite was Isaac Asimov and the Foundation and Robot Series, which meant many trips to the library in town getting 2-3 at a time for nearly a year.  The Robot and Foundation series were perhaps the more interesting as they showed the impact of having robotic “helpers” and how they could impinge on these future worlds.  The way the “future” was described in the popular press in the late 70’s, early 80’s was that robots will take over all of the menial tasks by the year 2000 and all that stuff.  Our vision of robots at the time was more along the lines of “Lost in Space” characters, Star Wars’ C3PO and Max Headroom – we did not see them as what they actually have mostly become, which is predominantly fixed machinery completing repeatable tasks accurately and constantly.  More recent movies such as Terminator, Blade Runner, Ex Machina and Chappie have put a human face on robots, but that always intertwines with an underlying threat…

202303_Chappie.jpg

The coolest of all movie robots was CHAPPiE … mainly because of his South African accent

But robots outside of the movies are making a comeback in the global psyche.  Maybe not as the Jetson’s butler, but as tools of war, as well as potential space exploration, and now in a software form as Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is becoming available to the great unwashed public in the form of ChatGPT.  The influence of ChatGPT has only just begun, but it will be a potential game changer in the coming years, and many remain totally unaware of its impact on their day-to-day interactions and potentially, life view.  So, let’s do a deep dive on ChatGPT and wine:

ChatGPT is a computer program that can understand and respond to human language. It can be used to generate text, answer questions, and perform other language-related tasks. It’s trained on a vast amount of text data, so it can provide answers and respond to questions in a way that’s similar to how a human would. It was created by OpenAI, the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research laboratory founded by Sam Altman and Elon Musk in 2015. Musk subsequently resigned from the board in 2018 but is still a donor to the non-profit part of the company.

It is very simple to use. You type in your question or needs and it starts to generate a response in about three seconds. You watch it type in real time and the answer unfolds in front of you. Think Google but rather than showing you sites to then to go to read more on, ChatGPT writes the answer, even in essay form. Once you receive that write up, you can refine with new questions and the program learns and refines for you. This is a very simplistic description – its power is vast, from writing code to text generation, language translation, automated content generation and more.

So how might it impact the wine industry? The fine wine industry is one that has traditionally relied on the expertise of human sommeliers and wine connoisseurs to navigate the complex and nuanced world of wine production and consumption. However, with something such as ChatGPT it’s hard to not think that the industry is facing the possibility of a paradigm shift in the way that wine is described, marketed, and sold…

One of the most significant impacts that ChatGPT will have on the fine wine industry is in the realm of wine description and marketing.

The ability of ChatGPT to generate detailed and nuanced descriptions of wine can be used to create effective and compelling marketing materials, both online and in print. This can be particularly useful for small and medium-sized wineries that may not have the resources to employ a full-time sommelier or wine expert. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to generate reviews and ratings of wines, which can help to build trust and credibility with consumers. But slightly worrying that people could increasingly game the ratings game, this time with perfectly formed sentences that others may be influenced with certain buzz words autogenerated by ChatGPT… knowing what people want to read.

Another important impact of ChatGPT on the fine wine industry is in the area of wine pairing and recommendations. The ability of ChatGPT to understand and analyse the complex flavour profiles of different wines can be used to create highly personalized and accurate wine pairing recommendations for consumers. This can be particularly useful for restaurants and other food-service establishments that want to offer their customers the best possible wine-pairing experience. In addition to these applications, ChatGPT can also be used to assist with tasks such as inventory management and customer service in the wine industry.

For example, ChatGPT can be used to track the inventory of different wines in a cellar and generate alerts when certain bottles are running low. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to interact with customers and answer their questions about wine, providing them with the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions.

What can go wrong? Despite the many potential benefits of ChatGPT in the fine wine industry, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. One of the main concerns is that the increasing reliance on technology may lead to a decline in the expertise and knowledge of human sommeliers. ChatGPT is a machine learning model and its output may not match a human sommelier expertise. Human sommeliers and wine experts bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and creativity to the table, and their contributions help to make the industry more dynamic and exciting. Without their expertise and creativity, the industry may become more homogenous and less interesting to consumers.

Human sommeliers are able to use their intuition, palate, and experience to make highly personalised and accurate wine recommendations that take into account a wide range of factors, such as the individual tastes and preferences of a consumer. Without their expertise, the recommendations and pairings generated by ChatGPT or other technology may be less accurate and less satisfying, and it is going to be important for the industry to take steps to ensure that the human expertise and creativity of sommeliers and other wine experts are not lost in the process. Additionally, wine writers often have the opportunity to taste wines that are not yet available for purchase, and to provide early impressions and ratings, which can be very useful for consumers who are interested in purchasing these wines in the future.

In conclusion, while ChatGPT and other natural language processing technologies have the potential to generate detailed and accurate descriptions of wines, they are unlikely to completely replace human wine writers for tasting notes in the near future. The knowledge, experience, and personal touch of human wine writers are still essential for providing accurate and engaging tasting notes and evaluations.

 

Everything well written above comes from a wine writer asking ChatGPT to talk about itself and the impact on the wine industry.  He did nothing but pose the questions and let it complete the document.  You can read the article written by Simon Pavitt here and he even threw in an AI generated image for the full AI experience.  

 

But just read through the article again and take note of a few things that appear to be sort of “askew”.  I will list some of those odd paradigms which come from not really having an appreciation of a topic, such that “bluff” becomes a component of the discussion.

 

1. “The fine wine industry is one that has traditionally relied on the expertise of human sommeliers and wine connoisseurs to navigate the complex and nuanced world of wine production and consumption."

 

Just looking at it, the statement above is far too simplified – fine wine has been determined by many many factors, much more than what has been poured in restaurants and drunk by the self-appointed curators of taste but the ChatGPT has decided this to be the direction for its response.

 

2. “One of the most significant impacts that ChatGPT will have on the fine wine industry is in the realm of wine description and marketing”

 

Now it gets interesting.  Think about this for a minute and what is being said here.  The AI believes that it can describe a wine, based on … what?  The variety?  The vintage?  The producer?  We know it cannot TASTE or SMELL the wine, so it is either accessing common descriptors and making up a tasting note for use by the winery and marketing team if the wine is not released, or it believes it can rewrite tasting notes on the wine that is available to it from other reviewers and develop it with a trend towards audience recognition.

3. It gets better - “Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to generate reviews and ratings of wines, which can help to build trust and credibility with consumers”.  

 

So, it has not just potentially made up sets of tasting notes, but also its ratings to “relate” to the consumers.

 

4. “The ability of ChatGPT to understand and analyse the complex flavour profiles of different wines can be used to create highly personalized and accurate wine pairing recommendations for consumers.”

 

 You know the response here even before I type it – yes absolutely bonkers - as now it is not just knowing the taste and smell of wines it cannot smell or taste, but it is applying that to meals as well (which it cannot eat).

 

5. Which leads into its own version of counterpoint “Human sommeliers and wine experts bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and creativity to the table, and their contributions help to make the industry more dynamic and exciting.”  

 

What intrigues me in the following sentences is not just the honorific nature ChatGPT has to sommeliers, but also the lack of respect to wine writers which it believes it is “…unlikely to completely replace human wine writers for tasting notes in the near future (my emphasis on near future).  Just give it a year or two folks.

 

We are on a slippery slope comrades.  How long before ChatGPT is made available to everyone as an application for installing on your phone or computer?  A year?  Two?  And what do you believe the impact would be on the education system, the print media, marketers and creators in all forms of industries, as well as you and I in our daily struggle to get emails out, generic correspondence, and even this monthly report.

 

Good old Asimov gave us the Three Law’s of Robotics – which I used to know off by heart, but not so much now – and they went along the lines of

 

1. You can’t hurt a human or allow a human to be hurt,

 

2. You must obey a human (except where Law 1 is broken), and

 

3. A robot must protect itself (except where Laws 1 & 2 are broken).  

 

So, what are the governances applied to ChatGPT?  Pretty much none as I can determine, as this is the concern as we are in a world which accepts so much with so little thought that the use of a manipulative series of articles, pressing buttons and quoting buzz words, can easily develop a life of its own – one solely developed from the code within the ChatGPT programming and some well plotted nefarious queries.

 

Where this leads us is not in the interest of how we got here and why.  To know that human weaknesses are determined in such a way so as to be exploited by a program that cares not why the questions put to it are posed, will smittle the world.  If the ambition of this program is to make life easier, then it is a mirage … it will not help us move forward as a race at all, it will corral and dampen and eventually subdue us which is not a future I am particularly looking forward to.

 

Asimov didn’t trust robots totally and I believe he would have had the same view of ChatGPT, especially after they started writing his novels for him…

 

 

Cooler...

 

We had a really awesome March, lots of beautiful clear days and not too hot or too cold.  About 3 days with a touch of rain, but otherwise the vines were sitting out slowly bringing their sugars up – very slowly.

 

The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:

 

March 2023:        

Avg Maximum Temp          26.2°C

Daily Max recorded            34.6°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp           13.2°C

Daily Min recorded               7.3°C

 

Rainfall:                               21.6mm

The average maximum and minimum temperature averages once more were lower than in 2022 which still remains explained by the lack of intense heat days which was prevalent last year.  Rainfall total for 2023 is still low and approximately half of the 2022 total.

March 2022:        

Avg Maximum Temp           27.1°C

Daily Max recorded             37.8°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp            14.1°C

Daily Min recorded              9.2°C

 

Rainfall:                                40.0mm

Vintage Ends…

 

April will see the end of this very dry 2023 vintage.  All the reds will be off with Merlot the first to be picked before we move through Shiraz and Cabernet Franc.  Nets will be rolled and stored for another year and the shed will be given a clean out before it is locked up and barricaded against the incoming winter rains.

As always if you have any queries about what has been written or about wine in general, do not hesitate to contact us either by email, Instagram or Twitter and we will do our very best to answer any question.

Cheers

 

 

Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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