Malu Lambert: Is wine writing the one thing that defies Artificial Intelligence?

By , 1 February 2023



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The first time tasting de-alcoholised wine wasn’t a pleasant experience. Yes there was some fruit there, tropical, with a searing acidity. It was a sauvignon blanc made in the conventional sense, after which it was subjected to spinning cone technology. This procedure promises to keep aromas and flavours intact while stripping out the majority of the alcohol. The heart of the wine, the very thing that makes it vinous. Writing generated by Artificial Intelligence is much the same. All the ingredients are there, but something vital is missing.

ChatGPT, launched in November 2022, is the latest in robotic-writing software. Developed by OpenAI it rapidly produces text as if written by a human. It can write any form of communication, from essays and emails to poems and jokes. It can also proofread, summarise complex content and fact check.

Nothing is safe, especially not music.

A fan recently sent Nick Cave lyrics from a ‘song in the style of Nick Cave’ that he had asked the bot to create. In response Cave fiercely denounced it: “… this song is a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”.

“ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing”.

Prominent local journalist Gus Silber doesn’t have quite such a dark view of the technology. I was surprised to see a flyer he posted on Facebook advertising a course he will be conducting on ChatGPT. This is a real, well-respected writer, I thought. Does he not fear the machine?

After spending years as a self-confessed luddite, he admits to resisting the computer when it first came on the scene. He preferred instead to bash away at a typewriter in the newsroom as that made him ‘a real journalist’. He pragmatically now embraces new tech.

“AI is just another step on the journey of human-machine symbiosis, which has taken us from the early days of the World Wide Web to Google to Wikipedia to social media to smartphones and now to ChatGPT,” shares Silber during our human-to-human interview. “Technology should open up new ways of thinking and working, and that is exactly what ChatGPT is doing. I don’t think AI will make writers obsolete. It will rather add to the arsenal of tools.”

Silber rightly says it is the job of a writer to “distil and make sense of the chaos of the world”. He envisions AI can do the grunt work, which would enable the writer to work with greater efficiency.

“Writing is still the hard part of writing, and while ChatGPT can generate articles and essays on command, it lacks the empathy, insight, experience and emotional complexity that a human can and should bring to writing.”

His advice is sage: get ahead of the curve. Silber predicts that being adept with AI will one day be as commonplace on job applications as social media is today.

Outlets such as Forbes, CNET, and Buzzfeed are early adopters of ChatGPT, using it for all kinds of clickbait and SEO churn. And, laying off staff along the way. Other than the de-humanising of the workforce there are other ethics to consider. Plagiarism for one, the bot will indiscriminately borrow from anybody’s work it pleases. It can also be harnessed as a super spreader of misinformation. Politics is going to be fun, hey?

But back to the subject at hand: wine writing and the effect of Artificial Intelligence. Who better to ask than ChatGPT?

How will AI effect wine writing?

Artificial intelligence is likely to have an impact on wine writing by changing the way wine reviews and descriptions are generated. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data and information about a wine’s taste, aroma, and other characteristics, and use that information to generate accurate and concise descriptions. However, it is important to note that AI-generated descriptions may lack the personal touch, subjectivity, and unique voice that a human wine writer brings to their work. Additionally, AI-generated descriptions may not fully capture the complexities and nuances of a wine, which are often the most interesting aspects to discuss and discover.

AI is aware of its shortcomings. Wine writing can’t be mimicked it admits, as it’s a discipline that relies on the senses. “AI learns from input rather than from emotional and sensory experience and insight,” Silber adds to the discussion. “And also, AI machines will never really know what wine tastes like! They will only ever be able to make informed guesses.”

Consider then that if it’s a reliance on the senses that set wine writing apart, surely wine scoring will only increase in importance? Otherwise it’s 100 points for everyone from ChatGPT.

I asked it to write a tasting note:

“This [Wine Name and Vintage] is a classic expression of [Grape Variety] from [Wine Region]. On the nose, there are delicate notes of [Aroma 1], [Aroma 2], and [Aroma 3], followed by a palate that is [Texture Adjective] and bursting with [Flavor 1], [Flavor 2], and [Flavor 3]. The tannins are [Tannin Description] and the acidity is [Acid Description], providing a [Balance Description]. The finish is [Finish Length] and [Finish Characteristics]. A [Vintage Quality] vintage, this wine will continue to [Potential for Aging] with careful cellaring.”

So, AI can supply a dull yet admittedly effective format, just none of the critical assessment.

Write a wine description in the style of Andrew Jefford:

“This [Wine Name and Vintage] is a symphony of flavors and aromas, harmoniously crafted from the soil and sun of [Wine Region]. On the nose, it presents a bouquet of [Aroma 1], [Aroma 2], and [Aroma 3], while on the palate, it unfolds like a melodic progression of [Flavor 1], [Flavor 2], and [Flavor 3]. The tannins are silken and supple, enrobing the senses with a velvety embrace, while the acidity sings a bright, clear tune. This wine is a testament to the ingenuity and passion of the winemakers, a true embodiment of [Wine Region’s] terroir. It is a wine to be savored, a gift from the vineyards to the senses.”

Here we have Cave’s ‘grotesque mockery’. The above description a cheesy simulacrum of Jefford’s style, conversely one of the great wine writers of our time. AI has effectively stripped the heart out of his writing, much as if spinning cone technology was in use. Sanitised Jefford? De-alcoholised wine? No thanks to both.

  • Malu Lambert is freelance wine journalist and wine judge who has written for numerous local and international titles. She is a WSET Diploma student and won the title of Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year 2019. She sits on various tasting panels and has judged in competitions abroad. Follow her on Twitter: @MaluLambert


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