We have fake diamonds, hardwood floors, fur, meat, among many other fakes. Now we can add fake wine to the roll. But the fake wine under discussion is not about counterfeiting labels and selling plonk to collectors. It is literally about mixing together raw ingredients, none of them grapes, that mimic the taste and effect of wine. The process takes about 15 minutes., according to molecular biologist Mardonn Chua, who began his experiments over a weekend.
Chua grabbed easily available tartaric acid, malic acid, tannin powder, vegetable glycerin, ethanol, and sucros from a local brew store and Safeway and added the aroma compounds ethyl hexanoate (pineapple), butanoate (grape), limonene (citrus), and acetoin (butter) that he got from his lab. According to his online report, he mixed and matched until he got something that tasted like Kendall- Jackson Chardonnay. No surprise there, but he has much higher aspirations.
Chua is now a partner in Ava Winery, located in San Francisco, the very heart of creative destruction. But my take is that he is not likely to destroy the wine market.
Chua has continued his experiments with the aid of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify precise amounts of amino acids, sugars, flavor and aroma compounds in specific wines. He claims to have successfully replicated a sparkling Moscato d’Asti and a 1992 Dom Perignon Champagne and is offering his synthetic Dom Perignon for $50 a bottle, 150 percent less than the authentic one.
Since I have not tasted Chua’s faux wine, all bets are off. The project may well be an ethanol-induced fantasy. But what if these synthetic wines were pleasant enough for a fraction of the price of real wine?
Ultimately, whether Mardonn Chua is onto something important, depends on the taste of his product. While I can imagine that he could synthesize a mass-produced wine, which from year to year and batch to batch is configured to be consistent in flavor, aroma, color, and texture, he could never reproduce the subtleties and quixotic variation of fine wine from bottle to bottle, glass to glass, and sip to sip, that makes authentic wine so captivating.
And Chua could never reproduce the connection that wine has to the earth, to the farmers tending the vine, to the winemaker, who’s vision for that wine is the result of imagination.
But then, Mardonn Chua is not trying to do any of that. So let’s see what he does manage to do.