My recent blog about blue wines which have been “improved” by the addition of artificial sweeteners and dyes shows my feelings about such heresy. Now I hear of two new ventures into artificial wine, and I am not happy about these either.

Local wines labelled as “Georgia” must be made from at least 75% grapes grown in State. That limits what Cavender Creek and other North Georgia wineries can do, especially because the climate limits the range of grapes available. Other US States have it easier because of the huge volume and varieties of grapes grown. Putting it into perspective – the total volume of Georgia wine produced is less than one half percent of the volume of just one top-selling Californian brand, Barefoot.

The Californian megabrands use grapes from all over the State and from all sorts of grape varieties, carefully mixed to produce a very consistent wine. But at least they are made from grapes. But what about producers pushing wine production further and further into chemical engineering? I’ve recently read about two of these.

Replica Wines are a Colorado wine producer trying to make “master forgeries” of well-known wines. The company claims to have assembled the world’s largest database of alcoholic beverage flavor profiles, matching the chemical content with what a wine tastes like. It’s a step up from standard blending techniques – as well as a panel of skilled tasters, the resulting blends are now measured using sophisticated analysis techniques to check how closely they match the wine they want to copy. Replica blend wines from their own vineyards with other West Coast wines to mimic the original wines. Whilst not perfect copies (they claim at least a 90% chemical match), tastings of the results are fairly encouraging. Replica plans to launch their copies of high quality American wines at a quarter the price of the real thing. But at least it is wine from grapes with no flavor additives.

Much more alarming (and much further down the Frankenwine road) is Ava Winery. In my opinion, this is neither is a winery nor does it make wine. This company is trying to synthesize a liquid chemically identical to genuine wines using water and chemicals. No grapes are harmed in the production of this product! Ava first tried to produce a synthetic version of Moscato d’Asti. Ava sent samples to commercial analytic laboratories to identify its components. The results, often inconsistent, were used to work out which compounds contribute to flavor and then combine them correctly. Since some flavor compounds are used at concentrations of less than parts per billion, it’s not easy. Nor are the results so far encouraging – a critic in New Scientist identified notes of gasoline and plastic pool shark in a recent tasting of the first experiment.

Robin Hall

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