Members of the Terroir concept team have developed a geographical information software package that makes it possible to: predict vintage in a particular territory; choose the optimal variety of seedlings; and help train a sommelier. The team reached the final of the Start-up SPbU – 2021 contest.

terroir concept

Terroir is the combination of soil and climatic factors and specific characteristics of the area that have a major influence on the quality of agricultural produce. It takes on particular importance in the cultivation of grapes. The Terroir concept start-up project primarily aims at establishing an agro-consulting enterprise that would focus on grapevine site selection and diagnostics of ecological factors.

The core product of the future enterprise is a geographical information software complex. It will make it possible to: assess the suitability of land plots planned for planting grapes; and correlate them with the characteristics of varieties.

Aleksandr Averianov, a doctoral student in ‘Soil Science’ at St Petersburg University

‘The use of this tool will enable vintners to produce wines that will be unique in the competitive market and fully reflect the properties of local terroirs. Our other services include mathematical modelling of land fertility and integrated design of vineyards,’ said Aleksandr Averianov, the captain of the Terroir concept team, a doctoral student in ‘Soil Science’ at St Petersburg University.

The idea for the business project is based on the topic of the research work of the doctoral student, which he has been engaged in since studying for his master's degree. It was then that he researched farms in southern Russia and France to choose the optimal soil for vineyards.  Together with Aleksandr Averianov, the Terroir concept team includes: Olga Afonina, a thirdyear student in the bachelor's programme ‘Software Engineering’; and Mark Tsarukian, a second-year student in the bachelor's programme ‘International Relations’. The role of each of them in the project is directly related to their future profession. So, Olga Afonina is the main technical developer of the software complex. Mark Tsarukian is engaged in the promotion of the product both in the Russian and foreign markets.

The Terroir concept system is developed in the Python programming language. It aggregates the data of meteorological observations and the results of agrochemical surveys. Then, this information is used to calculate the terroir index, which indicates the quality of soil and climatic conditions. It is the terroir index and other parameters used to calculate the terroir that make it possible to determine the future yield of the site and select a specific grape variety.

Part of the data required by the system is in the public domain.  Most often, it can be used to make a comprehensive assessment in a wide range of territories. This assessment can be of use if a person wants to take a closer look at a specific region.

Aleksandr Averianov, a doctoral student in ‘Soil Science’ at St Petersburg University

‘The second stage is the selection of a specific area for setting up a farm. A more nuanced approach is necessary for this.  Data for this is requested from a local source, for example from an experimental station, within the framework of a commercial agreement,’ explained Aleksandr Averianov.

According to the captain of the Terroir concept team, the vast majority of competitors of the future company in the Russian market are subordinate institutions that use traditional approaches in the selection of varieties. There are also commercial firms, but most often they delegate research to the institutions mentioned above. Additionally, the practice of attracting foreign experts is common in Russia – for example, from French wine-making institutions. They also do not often use innovative methods, but it is considered prestigious to invite them. At the same time, the domestic school of viticulture is not inferior to foreign ones, emphasised Aleksandr Averianov.

‘Before entering the international market, we plan to become firmly established in the Russian market. Moreover, now is the perfect time for this. A very positive situation for the industry has developed in the country, since the federal law "On viticulture and winemaking" has been adopted and the state policy in agriculture is aimed at territorial expansion of vineyards,’ said Aleksandr Averianov.

terroir concept 2

Agricultural holdings and wineries will become the future consumers of the company's services. Additionally, the number of users can include seedling nurseries. They will be able to use the system to more accurately select grape varieties for their customers. The team also plans to develop an educational module on the concept of terroir for sommelier schools, which are currently flourishing in Russia.

The concept of terroir is not only a production tool, but also a significant sales tool in the wine market. People fancy buying wine that reflects the characteristics of a particular area.

Aleksandr Averianov, a doctoral student in ‘Soil Science’ at St Petersburg University

‘For example, French wines from the Loire Valley stand in stark contrast to Italian wines from Verona. A sommelier who understands the characteristics of a wine can help the consumer choose the right product. For us, the educational module is also a promotion tool, since, developing the very concept of terroir, we also advertise our own services,’ said Aleksandr Averianov.

By the final of the contest, the Terroir concept team has developed a beta version of a geographical information system with a verified algorithm for assessing soil and climatic conditions of the terrain. It also has a detailed business plan for the project. The further direction of the start-up’s development depends on how well the team performs in the final. If the Terroir concept team wins, the stage of registration of intellectual property and the establishment of a joint small innovative enterprise with St Petersburg University will begin. If the team does not come top, they will attract private financing.

The contest has completely exceeded my expectations. Firstly, the very participation in such contests helps to develop an interesting project. Here we have constantly faced deadlines. This has boosted our productivity. The start-up school has also helped me a lot.

Aleksandr Averianov, a doctoral student in ‘Soil Science’ at St Petersburg University

‘I have a basic natural science education, which is why it was so important for me to get acquainted with specialists from St Petersburg University in economics, marketing and distributed ledgers. I believe that I have received a full-fledged additional education here, which I have already used when drafting a business plan. Another benefit of this contest is competition. The desire to become the best is what really motivates,’ noted Aleksandr Averianov.

The ‘SPbU Start-up’ contest is being held at the University for the sixth time.  Teams that have presented best knowledge-intensive and commercially viable business models will receive monetary prizes from the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund:  300,000 roubles for the first place; 200,000 for the second; and 100,000 for the third.  Additionally, the two winning teams may be offered to establish a small innovative enterprise with the participation of St Petersburg University. Grants for their projects’ development will amount to 1,000,000 and 700,000 roubles for the first and second places respectively.  For more detailed information about the ‘SPbU Start-up-2021’ student contest please visit the website of the Endowment Fund of St Petersburg University.