French wines return from space for analysis

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/3Dsculptor
Pic:getty/3Dsculptor

Related tags: Wine, Climate change, France, R&D

Bottles of French wine have returned to Earth following a stint on the International Space Station: with researchers now ready to assess how the wine has changed.

Over the last year, 12 bottles have been circling the earth on the station; while 12 bottles on Earth have been kept by for comparison. 320 vine canes were also in the consignment. The wines and vines returned to Earth on Wednesday on SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft.

The aim of the exercise is to fuel research into agriculture of the future, as scientists search for varieties that are hardier, resistant to pests, or able to cope with climate change. The wines will also be tasted to see how they have changed compared to those on Earth.

Microgravity: revealing answers to climate change?

Space Cargo Unlimited is a European start-up founded by space-enthusiast entrepreneurs and private investors. Its French subsidiary Space Biology Unlimited is looking at how work in microgravity research (ie, little or no gravity) can face the future challenges in agriculture and food.

When threatened by changes in their environment, plants undergo drastic biological changes. France’s Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV), based in Bordeaux, will analyze the differences between returning canes (of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) with similar specimens that stayed on earth to identify these mutations and to stabilize the adapted strains.

The choice to research vines and wines as a proxy for agricultural evolution at large is driven by the extended knowledge developed around wine since ancestral times, and the role it has played in previous scientific breakthroughs (such as Louis Pasteur discovering the existence of bacteria).

In addition, the wine industry is particularly sensitive to global warming. Grapes are extremely sensitive to change in temperature and season.

“We think that microgravity has a lot to offer the future of viticulture and agriculture on Earth,”​ says Space Cargo Unlimited.

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