Bordeaux wines blasted into space for study

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It is terrain which tells the story of Bordeaux’s most famous export.

This year’s harvest is over now, but grapes which grew in this region of France have produced wine destined for a global market.

Bottles will have been ferried to shops and homes. And a few have been placed in this rocket, bound for the International Space Station.

But have no fear about astronauts drinking on the job: the wine is strictly off limits, sent upwards in the name of science only.

It was here at the Bordeaux Scientific Institute of Vine and Wine that the bottles were packed in special containers ready for the mission, 12 sent upwards for a year, and 12 left to age on Earth for comparison.

Researchers will study how space affects the wine’s composition and flavour in the hope of gaining new insights for the food and drinks industry.

“We were not thinking this project was serious. But, in fact, we took this opportunity that, considering the stay of the wine on this international (space) station, is a possibility of studying the impact of micro-gravity, of the solar radiation, onto the evolution of the wine component(s),” says Professor Philippe Darriet, the Director of Oenology at the Institute of Vine and Wine Science at the University of Bordeaux.

Wine-making is a complex process which uses both yeast and bacteria, and involves chemical processes, making it good for space study, according to the European start-up behind the operation, Space Cargo Unlimited.

The launch is the first of six space missions planned by the company over the next three years, including sending vines to the ISS.

The research could help inform efforts to breed hardier plants that adapt to climate change, or fight off disease.

“What we really want is to really expose a number of living organism(s) to the specific condition of space, and bring them back,” says Nicolas Gaume, the CEO and co-founder of Space Cargo Unlimited.

“So you imagine that the spectrum of what we expect is going to be going from being botanist – bring back interesting new evolutions of life in space that could allow us to grow… get more resilient plants to specific parasites that are going to grow with climate change.”

Getting Bordeaux bottles into space builds on the rich history of wine in the region going back centuries.

At this cultural centre, they track the evolution of the product down the decades – from early exports, to the modern day.

And the ISS mission is certain to take pride of place here at some point – the treasured beverage, helping with science.

“We’re proud because it’s part of the culture, it’s part of the local culture, (and) of the economy as well. And for years and centuries, wine has been exported from Bordeaux,” says Solene Jaboulet, the Marketing and Communication Director at the Bordeaux Cité du Vin Museum.

And now the exports have gone further than ever before.

When the 12 bottles are brought down from space after a year, they’ll be tasted and analysed.

The greatest challenge for now could be keeping the astronauts’ hands off them during the festive period.

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