Class of 2021
29 / San Luis Obispo, USA
The Russian-born chemist who taught a computer to taste wine
As a chemistry student at university in southern California, Katerina Axelsson worked at a grape-crushing facility to help pay for her studies. It was there that she noticed that a batch imprinted with two different labels received drastically different industry scores from the same critics. She figured there had to be a more scientific way to score wine using chemistry instead of the traditional hundred-point scoring system. Katerina was granted permission to “be a mad scientist” in the lab and developed a large database of wine chemistry, unlocking the complex flavour matrix of the drink. She then teamed up with Prof. Alexander Dekhtyar, a computer science PhD, and together they “taught a computer how to taste”.
Katerina’s company, Tastry, uses artificial intelligence and analytical and flavour chemistry methods to gain insight into the flavour composition of wines and, in turn, predict consumer preferences. The results have included a personalised wine recommender that allowed grocery store customers to get tips based on their favourite flavours, and a smartphone app that provides recommendations. The project has evolved into a data-driven solution that allows retailers to optimise their stock and, in turn, helps wineries to predict and increase the chances of a wine’s success. Next up is a concept to pair wine with recipes, allowing shoppers to receive vinous suggestions based on their shopping list. Katerina’s curiosity has not only transformed the experience of wine-buying but also helped to reduce waste throughout the industry.
“Our vision is to revolutionise and optimise every step in the supply chain for sensory and flavour-based products, starting with the wine industry.” – Katerina Axelsson