Grapevine: The Science of Winemaking, From the Laboratory to Your Home

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

I’ve been penning this column weekly for over eight years. I’ve written about the miracle of the transformation of grapes into wine, with all its attendant nuances and pitfalls. I’ve espoused the uniqueness of each wine based on its heritage and the vineyard environment in which it is cultivated. I’ve pontificated on the skill and artistry of winemakers who create wines that reflect their vision for seeking great wines.

I’ve also reported on man’s endless effort to improve on nature, to utilize modern techniques and technology to achieve enhanced yields and quality in the vineyard and the winery.

Man consistently attempts to one-up nature, to play God with the natural order. But I wasn’t expecting man to alter the efficacy and foundation of winemaking. To create a wine that is produced as much in a laboratory as in a winery and to marry science and economics in an effort to produce a quality wine that is identical from vintage to vintage and is priced substantially less than comparable bottles.

Two companies have created wines in an attempt to trump nature and all its variables and foibles. “Better living through chemistry,” the DuPont slogan from last century, is aptly applied to these wines.

A Colorado company, Replica Wine, is, according to its website, “unapologetically replicating your favorite wines.” Through a program with an independent laboratory, begun 10 years ago, Replica has analyzed nearly 2,000 wines, testing for more than 60 chemistry markers, while amassing “the largest alcohol flavor profile database in the world.”

These markers capture a wine’s components, including acidity, sugars and tannins. Replica’s panel of tasters then compares combinations of these components and those of a selected popular wine. After an iterative blending process is completed, the final sign-off for the knock-off lies with Replica’s in-house Master Sommelier.

Currently, five wines are marketed:

  1. Pickpocket, a replica of the California cult favorite, Prisoner Red Blend;
  2. Knockoff, a replica of best-selling Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay;
  3. Misbehaved, a replica of the wildly popular Meiomi Pinot Noir;
  4. Just Right, a replica of Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon; and
  5. Embellish, a replica of the esteemed Erath Oregon Pinot Noir.

At $10 to $25, the wines retail for about half of its genetically-correct counterparts. These wines are intended to appeal to those with a Champagne taste, but a beer wallet.

While Replica wines are engineered wines, their core component is grapes. A new San Francisco startup is taking a revolutionary step in replicating wines. No grapes are used in the production of their experimental wines.

Ava Winery creates wine in its laboratory – molecule by molecule. It claims to produce the first synthetic wine. Of course, there are ethical issues in marketing a synthetic product that has similar characteristics and components as its naturally produced counterpart. It may look like, smell like, even taste like a Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is laboratory designed and chemically produced, down to its smallest microbes.

Ava’s co-founder, Mardonn Chua, combined numerous components, including tartaric acid, malic acid, tannin powder, sucrose, ethanol, glycerin, various flavor and aroma compounds – and ethanol, the alcohol base. Top off this science experiment with water and voila, a new wine in 15 minutes.

Does the Ava wine meet the definition of wine? It contains no grapes and has no natural provenance; therefore it is not technically wine. But it does contain alcohol, so it comes under the jurisdiction of government regulations and must be sold through the same channels as other alcoholic beverages. Ava has begun taking orders for the first offering, a synthetic 1992 Dom Pérignon Champagne ($50 versys $220 for the winery bottling). However, it has yet to be vetted through the regulatory system.

Each day, technology is opening pathways beyond man’s limitations. It is providing the gateway into a realm of science beyond mortal intellect and increasing the capacity for data and genetic analysis beyond the prior millennium of scientific discovery.

How soon before it provides the foundation for other synthetic products to pair with our synthetic wines?

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.




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