Artificially produced wine: fad or the future of the food industry?

The history and complexity of wine creation over the years has inevitably lead to the unfolding of a wine culture consisting of wine connoisseurs, competitions between regions, a vast variety of grapes and different wine-making technologies. Winemakers put immeasurable effort into giving every wine its own distinct character, making it “fruity”, “tart”, or even “prudent” and “good humoured”, as Roald Dahl put it.

However, in San Francisco, Ava Winery challenges everything we know and appreciate about wine by using molecular plant science. They analyze everything that makes up a glass of wine: the density, gas content, sugars and tannins, using the produced chemical code to replicate wine in the physical form. In essence, they are turning liquid into data.

The original idea behind the startup was to offer people luxury wine at a reasonable price. In fact, Ava Winery started when its founders stumbled upon a $11,000 bottle of Château Montelena 1973. “My co-founder Mardonn saw the wine on display in Napa and thought it was a shame that only a handful of people today know how it tastes.

The idea was what if we could recreate it so that everybody could experience it?” said Ava co-founder Alec Lee via Decanter.com.

However, as the startup was established and developed, its founders realised it was not just about cheap booze. It has become obvious that there are several other reasons to synthesise wine.

A simple Google search reveals thousands of articles about how the food industry is not transparent with customers and how important transparency is for making informed food choices.

Consumers need to know what is in their food and how it is produced, wine being no exception. There are lots of ingredients left unindicated, not to mention pesticides used in growing the grapes. In contrast, Ava winery not only aims to lower the price of the wine, but to be honest about its production process and educate the masses about bioengineering.

The argument being that if the consumer does not know how their lunch was produced, such as what the chicken went through before becoming a wrap and what pesticides were used to grow the grapes, how will they know whether it is safe for consumption?

Ava does not have reason to add any conservants or other potentially carcinogenic ingredients, therefore presenting to consumers a safer product.

Last but not least comes sustainability. According to some evaluations, it takes 109 litres of water to produce 124 millilitres of wine.  Alec Lee estimates that their lab production of wine will require 50 to 100 times less water. It goes without saying that synthesising wine also requires less land, leaving more space for forests or natural fields.

With the growing demands of the global population for food, synthetic wine might be the beginning of a new era of food: safe, transparent, efficient, and sustainable.

Image credit: Scmtb49 via Wikimedia Commons

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