12 million.

This is the number of olfactory cells in our nose. These cells allow a recognition for a relevant variety of odours. Olfactory cells relate to our deep memories and for a quick food assessment. One of those foods is the wine.

Wine, that represents an industry that has a huge commercial value at European level. The Eurostat statistics say that EU is leader in the wine production: in 2018, the EU Member States exported €22.7 billion (bn) of wine, and imported a total of €13.4 bn. All told, the sold production of wine (including sparkling wine, port and grape must) in the EU was around 15 billion litres. The total area under vines in the EU was 3.2 million ha in 2015, representing around 45% of the world’s total area under vines and the 1.8 % of the total utilised agricultural area. All over the EU the Higher Educational Institutions (HEI), with the faculties of Agriculture and Enology, study the wine sector with a scientific approach, training researchers, students, and professionals.
These are central figures in the whole production chain, with an impact on the local economies generating new professionals in the field for:

  1. winemaking companies,
  2. management of different viticulture phases for the high quality wine production,
  3. maintenance of qualitative standards,
  4. defence of autochthone vineyards.

In any training process, the declaratory learning is supported by lessons and didactical materials with a linguistic approach (slides, papers, articles, etc.).
At the contrary of the majority of the academic lessons, in enology is essential the support of an intense laboratory activity where the student learn, with a guidance, in the acquiring multisensorial skills for the wine recognition (olfactive, gustative and visual): a procedural learning that refers to laboratorial and practical activities. Thus, differently from other fields where the theoretical aspect is prevalent, in enology and wine tasting it is central the ability of the “sensory recognition”.The problem emerges in the case of distance learning.

There some experiences of MOOCs on wine tasting, but these only cover the declaratory learning, without laboratorial activities.
This background is tackled by the MERGO project.
MERGO aims to bridge a MOOC developed by a strategic partnership of HEI and organization in the wine business sector bringing the procedural learning for the recognition of sensory features by using new ICT paradigms: the Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) and the gamification approach. The project will draft an pedagogical validated framework aimed at the development ICT innovative tools that will allow an autonomous and distance training for students with some olfactory stimuli recognized by a digital interface and orchestrated by artificial intelligence modules (adaptive artificial tutors). MERGO project aims to enhance the knowledge triangle in this sector in order to put in a strong relation education, research and innovation.
The complete title of the project is “Mooc in Enology aimed at Reinforcing competences applying Game-based approach and Olfactive learning for the wine tasting”, in a word: MERGO.
The verb “mergo” comes from the Latin and it means “immerse”, “plunge”, “dive”, a figurative action that a taster should do when he/she needs to understand an olfactory bouquet of a specific wine, immersing his/her nose, and diving in a series of sensory stimuli that are decisive for the discrimination.

MERGO involves 7 Partners from 5 different strategic countries in wine sector: three of the most important wine producers (France, Italy and Portugal) and two where wine production is increasing (Croatia and Turkey). The EU dimension is decisive for its multilingualism approach that benefits from the regional excellences in the wine sector. MERGO represents a synergic partnership between 4 HEI in Enology and Food Engineering, an association of wineries, a National association of wine tasters and an ICT company.

Briefly, MERGO aims to:

  1. Define a methodology and a theoretical framework for the wine tasting learning, with an EU and transnational approach in order to involve the academic sector in the agriculture sciences and enology, with professionals in the wine making field (O1).
  2. Release a MOOC on Wine Tasting in an EU dimension applying a co-design with the stakeholder of the wine sector (O2).
  3. Design and implement a tool based on Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) and Internet of Things paradigms, with learning exercises co-created with the experts, stakeholders and students in the wine sector in the form of Open Educational Resources (OERs) allowing an olfactory learning , embed in the MOOC, representing the procedural component in a distance learning (O3).
  4. Disseminate the results of the project, delivering guidelines, best practices and recommendations with an exploitation strategy that aims to expand the HEIs involved with a snow- ball effect, promoting change and innovation in wine sector.