Just in time for Mother’s Day: Artificial wine

artificial wine
“Grapes? We don’t need no stinkin’ grapes.”

A San Francisco startup has a unique Mother’s Day gift: artificial wine, made without the need for grapes

The Wine Curmudgeon has waxed philosophic many times about the future of wine criticism, most recently with the arrival of artificial intelligence. Machines might be able to improve upon what one researcher calls the “exercise in pretentiousness” that is a wine review.

And what better product for artificial intelligence to review but artificial wine? And just in time for Mother’s Day, too.

We can thank a San Francisco startup called Ava Winery, where “wine” is made in a lab from a combination of ethanol (the alcohol bit), water, sugar and assorted chemicals. No grapes needed, of course, because they just get in the way, what with farming, harvesting, and the rest of that foolishness.

Is this a joke? Far from it, for Ava’s founders already have millions of dollars behind them from two multi-nationals, and are getting ready to embark on the fairy dust adventure that is venture capital funding.

Technically, Ava does not make wine, since a product called wine must, by law, contain grapes; I wonder how they’ll get around that on the label. But that hasn’t stopped the company, which expects to launch three “wines” next year – a pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and moscato. There is already a prototype for the last (and you can imagine how much it pained me to type that sentence).

Esther Mobley, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, bends over backwards to be fair to Ava, but eventually has to ask the most important question: Why does the world need artificial wine? What’s wrong with what we have now?

The Ava founders hem and haw, but don’t really have a good answer. My guess is that they’re doing it because they can, that the technology exists, and that they can get rich doing it. Which is all well and good, since that’s the way the world works. But it does seem to be a lot of trouble to go to create something that, in the end, will not be much different than Cherry Coke with a buzz. Which is not why most of us love wine.

6 thoughts on “Just in time for Mother’s Day: Artificial wine

  • By Alfonso Cevola (@italianwineguy) -

    i was particularly troubled by their capricious use of the name Moscato d’Asti. Asti is a defined place in the wine universe ( not the synthehol laboratory) and when one calls a wine Moscato d’Asti ( that is neither Moscato or from Asti) implies a disregard for place and grape.

    If you’re going to make a fake wine the very least they can do is come up with an appropriately kitschy fake moniker to go with it.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thanks for this. As noted, they will have significant trouble getting label approval from the federal government since it’s not legally wine. And your point is well taken. The 2005 trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S. says producers can’t use European place names on U.S. wine.

      So it will no doubt have to be called something like moscato-style wine beverage, just like Kraft singles have to be called a cheese product. Yummy, huh?

  • By James Phillips -

    Just another sign of the apocalypse

  • By Esther -

    Alfonso – a really good point, and one I would have raised in the story if I’d had more space.

    I was tempted to use quotation marks in every reference to their “Moscato d’Asti,” but that started to get a little quotation-mark heavy …

    Bottom line, when it comes to labeling this with a designation of origin or even just labeling it as “wine,” as you both point out, is that Ava hasn’t even begun to seek any sort of permits yet. They don’t expect to be able to registeras a winery initially, and they certainly won’t be able to label the product as wine. They say those are longterm goals. We’ll see if it happens.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thanks for your comment, Esther. Space limitations, indeed — brings back many not so fond memories of my newspaper days.

  • By Bobby Cox -

    If you have seen THAT episode of Northen Exposure you already know that First Growith Bordeaux can be synthesized 😉

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