Ok, Yes, we are sure how we feel about this. Meh.
As purists, (mostly, we have an absurd appreciation for the microwave device) we find ourselves asking one simple question about the efforts to reproduce wine with synthetic materials.
“We can turn water into wine in 15 minutes.” are the claims made by the Ava Winery, a San Francisco start-up that is making synthetic wine without grapes – simply by combining flavor compounds and ethanol.
Mardonn Chua and Alec Lee came up with the idea while visiting a winery in California’s Napa Valley in 2015. They viewed the bottle of an iconic wine, Chateau Montelena, which is famous for being the first Californian Chardonnay to beat French contenders at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Chua says. “I could never afford a bottle like this, I could never enjoy it. That got me thinking.”
Traditionally, wine is made by fermenting grapes – yeast turns sugars in the grape juice into ethanol. The process also develops many hundreds of flavor compounds, but takes time and produces variable results. Could there be a simpler way? These people say ‘yes’.
Within days, Chua began experimenting, combining ethanol with fruity flavor compounds like ethyl hexanoate, which has a fruity, pineapple-like aroma. The initial concoction was monstrous, he says. But six months later, Chua and Lee now think they have produced an experimental synthetic wine that mimics the taste of the sparkling Italian white wine Moscato d’Asti and are now trying to produce an imitation of Dom Pérignon champagne.
One thing that certainly might put consumers off is that any synthetic wine is unlikely to have the word “wine” on its label. There are strict rules governing which products may use this term – in the EU, for example, it must apply only to the fermented juice of grapes, whereas in other jurisdictions like the US other fruits can be used.
But although losing some of the trappings of traditional wine may make synthetic ones less attractive, French winemaker Julien Miquel can foresee an interest in trying recreations of classic vintages. “There would be some curiosity on how close they could get,” he says.
But does curiosity make a market?
In this video taste test, while the flavors were appreciated, apparently it smelled a bit like ‘pool shark’. As in, there was a definite plastic aroma to the beverage (we are loath to label it “wine”.)
“It’s absolutely going to be substantially cheaper,” Lee says of their method, which cuts out the need to grow grapes and then ferment them over long periods.
They plan to sell an initial batch of 499 bottles of a Dom Pérignon mimic for $50 a pop, they will begin shipping this summer to customers keen to experience the taste of a classic champagne that could otherwise cost upwards of several hundred dollars.
But the team is likely to meet with stiff resistance from classical wine makers and researchers.
“It’s nonsense, to be honest with you,” says Alain Deloire, director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University, Australia, who has worked for Champagne specialists Moët & Chandon. He argues that the natural origins of wine – the landscape and culture where the grapes grow – have an indispensable impact on the drink that is produced, and that consumers look for this in what they buy.
All being said, we prefer our wines to be made like this
Rather than this.
Call us old-fashioned, we prefer natural over artificial, regardless of the price.