This Computer Can Taste Wine

How Sensory-Perceiving Tech Is Changing The Wine Industry

Devan Spiegel
February 24, 2022

The idea of Tastry came to Katerina Axelsson while she was a chemistry student at Cal Poly working at different wineries to put herself through school. During that time, she noticed how many inconsistencies there were in winemaking and just how inefficient it was in general. After being mass-produced, this wine would be sold to different labels, and that’s where things would really start to get messy. This same wine could be sold for a certain price at one label, and a completely different price at the next. She also noticed the wine receiving drastically different critic reviews at the varying places the wine was being sold. 

Axelsson has made strides towards solving this problem by creating a computer that can taste. This sensory-perceiving machine was founded in 2014 in San Luis Obispo. The technology is the first of its kind, helping to make manufacturing more consistent and aiming to make consumption more enjoyable.

Santa Maria Sun Feature | Mustang News
Tastry’s founder, Katerina Axelsson, featured in a Santa Maria Sun article about Tastry’s innovative technology. Source Zach Langer revealed Axelsson came up with the idea for Tastry when working at local wineries to help pay for her college education.

Lead Data Scientist, Zach Langer, shared that Tastry, aims to “take out the subjective portion and measure how people actually perceive wines and the various chemical properties of it."

With her knowledge of chemistry, Axelsson decided to create a solution where the process of winemaking would become less subjective. When she wasn’t in school or working, she spent her time messing around with different wines and brainstorming ways to improve this industry. After gaining enough experience, she decided to take her findings to the head data scientist professor at Cal Poly, Alex Dhektyar. 

Dhektyar agreed to a 30-minute meeting with Axelsson, but once she began to share her ideas, the session took off. It turned into a four-hour collaboration with other professors and doctors. They collaborated on how the technology would operate, and eventually founded Tastry. 

One of the battles Tastry helps combat is the issue of inconsistencies in wine reviews. Currently, many of these reviews come from sensory panels put on by professional individuals. Emily Gallagher, a Wine and Viticulture student at Cal Poly, said she believes these sensory panels are “expensive and difficult to coordinate with people’s schedules”. Along with these struggles, the range of opinion is not broad enough and extremely biased, she said. 

Tastry Kiosk | Mustang News
Pictured is a Tastry Kiosk, a version of the type of machine that the company has engineered to be placed at wineries, in wine shops, in grocery stores, and any other places where wine is sold. These kiosks use Tastry’s technology to recommend wine to customers on the spot after asking them a few short questions. Source Zach Langer explains “there are other companies that will try to say ‘we can recommend wines’ but they do more of like a personality, kinda Buzzfeed-y type quiz, versus we actually start with your sensory perception and tie that into your sensory perception…”

Tastry's AI algorithm gathers surveys and collects data from a wide demographic to see how people perceive flavor and then uses that information in combination with the chemical compounds of wine to create an objective prediction on how different wines will perform. The technology can be used for any sensory perception, even fragrance. This benefits the producers because they can more accurately reach their target audiences and are more likely to make wines people will like. 

Another benefit is helping consumers buy wine. The technology used at Tastry benefits wine lovers of any level. If you love wine, but just don’t know where to begin you can use their website and app to take a quiz and see wine recommendations at locations near you. They will ask things like what you think of the smell of freshly cut grass or the taste of strawberries, and with this information in combination with wine knowledge, they are able to recommend wines you may prefer. Once the app suggests a wine, it will give you information on availability and inventory at stores and wineries in your area. If you are a wine expert, you may also take the quiz to find something new that gears towards your palette preferences. 

This virtual-based strategy is sticking with current trends because according to The Wine Industry Trends and Report in 2021, over the past year consumers “adapted and went online to purchase”.

"There are other companies that say they recommend wines, but they do more of a personality BuzzFeed type quiz”, Langer said. Tastry is data-driven, he said, therefore leaning toward stronger recommendations. 

Tastry is collaborating with wineries and grocery stores both big and small. They started in local places like the Central Coast and Napa, but have now been expanding further. 

"The wine industry isn’t the most tech-savvy, so they don’t know why they would need us,” Langer said. They often approach wineries to inform them of what they do in hopes of collaborating. Although this is their more common routine, Tastry is now catching on and having wine professionals reach out to them directly.  

With Tastry changing the wine industry through its advanced technology, some may question how this will change the way the industry has operated thus far. AI could potentially pull away from things that wine enthusiasts enjoy such as wine tasting. Langer is convinced this is not the case. Tastry strives to improve a wine tasting experience by guiding what wines you select during your tasting so that you don’t waste your time or money. It may also lead you to try a wine you had not previously been aware of.

"The thing that mainly got me hooked on Tastry was the revolutionary aspect of it," Langer said, "because there’s no other company that’s doing what we're doing with the same efficacy."

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