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synthetic wineThis is bizarre but inevitable I suppose given the popularity of reductionism is science.

Reductionism is the view that all complex phenomena can be explained by analyzing them into their component parts. Thus, wine is nothing but a particular organization of chemicals.

AVA Winery in San Francisco claims that they can recreate any wine simply by analyzing its chemical constituents and combining the appropriate chemicals. According to their website if you combine the right acids, amino acids, sugar,  volatile organics, and ethanol you can create any wine you want. No messy grapes, expensive barrels, or time consuming fermentation. Just chemicals.

The owner’s holy grail is to recreate the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Judgment of Paris. However, they are currently taking orders for a replica 1992 Dom Perignon Champagne which they will sell you for $50. (The current market price of the real thing is $227) The wine has not yet been made so no one knows how successful this will be.

I think it cannot quite be true that they are making an exact replica of a 1992 Dom Perignon since they could not reverse engineer a wine that no longer exists. The current bottles of 1992 Dom have undergone years of bottle aging that have significantly changed their chemical structure. The best they can do is replicate what it tastes like today.

But I have some reservations that such a thing is possible. I doubt that today we know enough to determine which of the 1000 compounds in wine contributes to its flavor. Taste tests by independent somms have been thumbs down. In fact, their methods are no different from those used by the food industry to create the snack “foods” at your supermarket, none of which tastes like real food.

But there may be reasons to doubt such a thing is even theoretically possible. Some complex systems may have properties that are quite different from the properties of its component parts. They only emerge as the result of the interaction of the components. The crucial question is whether these so called “emergent properties” are fully predictable based on features of the component parts. If not, artificial “wine” will be at best an approximation. But if the features of complex systems are predictable and can therefore be engineered, artificial wine may be in your future.

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