Posted on 12/06/20 by Stéphane Reynaud
(The original and complete article in French can be found here)
The Saturnalia system from Ticinum Aerospace claims to assess the value of a wine before bottling, by analysing images of the vine taken from satellites. The approach is debatable.
Each spring, in Bordeaux, is a very busy moment, as critics taste and rate the last vintage during the campaign of the new Primeurs. This rating determines in part the price of wines. So, what should you do when most of these experts cannot get to Bordeaux, as is the case this year due to the Covid pandemic? An unexpected solution could come from the Italian company of Pavia, Ticinum Aerospace, co-founded by the European Space Agency. Ticinum says it can assess from space the quality of a future wine well before the harvest. It sounds like a good joke. And yet ...
The Saturnalia program is based on the analysis of satellite images of the vineyard. "The idea came to me during a conference on satellite data that I had attended. That was the trigger for me. As we are settled in a wine region, we applied our research to the world of vineyards." says Daniele De Vecchi, director of technology at Ticinum Aerospace. The main piece of information derived from these images is a satellite estimate of the vigor of the vineyard. "These data provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) are combined with other meteorological ones. We also take into account the scores attributed by critics like Robert Parker or Neal Martin to the wines produced on the same parcel." In short, all this data feeds an algorithm which generates a note. "This score gives us an idea of the quality of the wine to come which is produced in the observed parcel", continues De Vecchi. Some question the Saturnalia algorithm. Besides the analysis of the plant's vigor, the magic formula would not be based on anything serious. That is yet to be seen.
Others in Bordeaux are quick to point out that the analyses presented by the Italian company have some errors. On a map highlighted by the company, the parcels allocated to a large Château in Pauillac actually belong to its neighbor. "We are trying to do our best with the best available maps," Daniele De Vecchi humbly replied.
Ticinum Aerospace explains that Saturnalia tool is aimed for "private customers, companies investing in wine and producers who want to know in real time what is happening in their vineyard. We have the scores for the vintage from November, well before it is tasted. We can pass this information on to investors. "
And, a strong argument, "Saturnalia scores are very close to those given by major critics several months after us. Anyone can verify it." There is indeed a closeness between these two types of evaluation."
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Talking about this correspondence, let’s have a look at Saturnalia scores versus the actual wine critics' scores, now that they are available.
Of the 104 wines analysed, we took a subset which were the same wines for which we were able to calculate the scores based on our predictions. We selected 34 wines that were tasted by at least 3 or more of the main wine critics mentioned above.
All critics scores are displayed in the chart, along with their average score and Saturnalia score.
As shown in the following chart displaying our scores and the averages of the critics, in many cases Saturnalia predictions were accurate, and in the majority of the cases they were well within the variation of the tasting scores (error bars show standard deviation).
The trend of variation is followed and the difference between our scores and the average of the critics is between 0 and 4. In most instances Saturnalia took a more conservative look at the vintage, with our scores 2 points lower than the average (which has, as mentioned earlier, greater variability, with a median value of 4/5 points of difference among different tasting scores).
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