Twelve bottles of Bordeaux red wine and 320 vine canes aboard a SpaceX ‘Dragon’ cargo craft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida this week after a year at the International Space Station (ISS).
Rather than merely providing a hobby vineyard for astronauts, the wines and vine canes were blasted into space in November 2019 as part of a scientific research project led by start-up firm Space Cargo Unlimited.
‘It’s exciting but I probably won’t sleep too much tonight,’ Nicolas Gaume, the firm’s CEO and cofounder, told Decanter a few hours before the splashdown. Bad weather had already delayed the cargo spaceship by a day.
The bottles and the vines – including 160 canes of Cabernet Sauvignon and 160 of Merlot – were due to be flown to France later this month for analysis by a team at the University of Bordeaux’s wine institute, the ISVV.
Properties in the wines and vines will also be compared against control samples that stayed behind on earth.
‘We’re going to look at everything that has evolved,’ Gaume said.
‘We’ll do a whole genome sequencing of the plants, to provide a clear view of all the DNA changes that could have happened on the stay on the ISS.’
A chemical analysis of the wines is planned, as well as a private tasting scheduled for early March.
The identity of the Bordeaux red wines has not yet been revealed, but they are from a single producer and one vintage.
Gaume described the absence of gravity, or microgravity, as the ‘ultimate stress’. He said researchers involved in the project were interested in learning more about how the vine canes may have adapted or evolved in a relatively short time to be resilient to the stressful conditions.
This, he said, could have implications for understanding how vineyards – and agriculture in general – might adapt to stress factors related to climate change.
The experiments are part of Space Cargo Unlimited’s ‘Mission Wise’ programme, which seeks to contribute to understanding of sustainable agriculture.
It’s not the first time that wine has been sent to space. Château Lynch-Bages saw its 1975 vintage launched into space aboard NASA’s Discovery shuttle in 1985.