Balancing Artistry and Automation in Challenging Times: The Role of Automation in Winemaking When the Cellar is Closed
Winemaking Breakout Session

This session will focus on the role of automation in the winery, starting from the perspective that it may not be possible to have a full cellar crew in the winery or to be able to access the winery at all, whether because of a pandemic or a natural disaster such as wildfire.

The speakers will discuss the tools available to supplement or replace human involvement in the winemaking process during these challenging situations. Beyond these urgent requirements, the speakers will address the processes in winemaking that lend themselves to automation without risk of reduction in wine quality and the parts of the process which might require human intervention. Finally, there will be a discussion of the skill sets that would be required to be successful in a more fully automated wine industry.

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Jim Harbertson
Washington State University, Tri-Cities

James Harbertson is an Associate Professor of Enology at Washington State University’s Wine Science Center located at the Tri-Cities Campus in Richland, Washington and is a faculty member in the School of Food Science and Viticulture and Enology Program. He received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and doctorate in agricultural chemistry from the University of California at Davis.

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Tom Collins
Washington State University, Tri-Cities

Dr. Collins has been an Assistant Professor of Grape and Wine Chemistry in the Viticulture and Enology Program at Washington State University since 2015.  He manages a research program in wine and spirits aroma and flavor chemistry and teaches course in wine chemistry and winery operations. Much of his current research program focuses on the impact of smoke exposure on grape and wine quality.


Alexander Kahl
Pernod Ricard Winemakers, New Zealand

Alex has worked in the wine industry since 1993 and has been with Pernod Ricard since 1998 where he started as an “assistant winemaker”.

Over the past 22 years he has worked his way up through various winemaking roles within the organization before taking on his current role as Transformation Director for Pernod Ricard Winemakers – leading the organizations push to rapidly adopt industry 4.0 technology.
He has worked making wine in New Zealand, Australia, Spain, France and Chile, he also speaks French and Spanish.


Michael Silacci
Opus One Winery, California

Michael Silacci did not know what he wanted to be when he grew up. So, he took a couple of years to travel through Asia and Europe to window-shop for a profession. When he arrived in France, his knowledge of French was limited to “bon voyage”. Someone suggested that if he wanted to eat well, speak French, and earn some francs, he should harvest grapes. Two-hour lunches and fine wine were all it took to lead him down the path to winemaking— and a life spent walking among the vines.

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