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Wine Hackers Are Making Wine Without Grapes or Fermentation

This is how Northern California startup Ava winery is sidestepping grapes and fermentation entirely—and trying to replicate Dom Pérignon in the process.

by Nick Rose
May 19 2016, 7:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Naotake Murayama

Some wine snobs will cringe just at the idea drinking wines from the New World, but at least it's still wine. Much to the dismay of purists, we may soon be entering an era of synthetic "designer" wines that are made without grapes.

A San Francisco startup called Ava Winery has started using chemistry to take all of that vines-and-barrels inconvenience out of winemaking. For millennia, wine has been made using fermentation; the process by which yeast converts grape juice into ethanol alcohol.

But, Ava is sidestepping that whole way of doing things by taking straight ethanol and mixing it with chemical flavour compounds like ethyl hexanoate, which would give the end product notes of pineapple, for example.

READ MORE: Meet the Bartender Making Wine Without Grapes or a Vineyard

According to New Scientist, Ava has succeeded in making a synthetic replica of Moscato d'Asti, a sparkling Italian white wine, and now have their sights set on Dom Pérignon. Ava, which proudly boasts of creating the "the world's first designer wines," on their website, is now taking orders for a limited batch of synthetic 1992 Dom Pérignon Champagne.

Image via Avawinery.com

Image via Avawinery.com

But Ava will have a lot of convincing to do if they plan on taking out the grape and still having the gall to call it "wine."

"It's nonsense, to be honest with you," Alain Deloire, director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University in Australia, told New Scientist. One critic said that Ava's synthetic Asti tasted like those "inflatable sharks you take to the pool." Yum!

And while grapeless wine might seem sacrilegious to lovers of bubbles, a $50 price tag for the fake version of what would easily cost ten times more might make it extremely appealing to those not hung up on process. Conceptually, it's kind of like the wine equivalent of synthetic cocaine or Canal Street Rolexes—a lot of people can't really tell the difference.

Ava's designer wines have no grapes, and are made up of 85 percent water, 13 percent ethanol alcohol, and a chemical cocktail of tannins, sugars, and flavour compounds. Sadly, because of their ethanol content, synthetic wines will still create very real hangovers.

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