What do you think about when you think of ageing a bottle of Italian wine?
It’s all about creating the right conditions. If you’re ageing a bottle of red, you want to make sure it’s stored properly on a cool and dark place. You also want to make sure that there’s no exposure to sunlight and that the conditions are just right to bring the wine to its full potential.
In other words, you think of a wine cellar.
For centuries, we’ve dug deeper underground to create the perfect conditions for a wine to age.
But what if we went the other way?
Instead, of going as far down as we can, why don’t we go as high up?
And we’re not talking about taking a bottle of wine to the top floor of a skyscraper here.
We’re talking about taking it so high up that it’s in a place that few have ever been.
Have you guessed where the wine’s going yet?
To infinity and beyond!
Or to put it a more sensible way, we’re going to find out if strapping a bottle of wine to a rocket and shooting it into space is a good way to age it.
…Okay, perhaps that was actually less sensible.
But the point is that we’re soon going to find out if we can age wine in space.
Here’s the story.
Wine in Space
It all starts with a European startup company called Space Cargo Unlimited. The name of the business should give you some indication as to what they’re looking to achieve.
It appears the company wants to discover whether it’s possible to transport various types of cargo through the vastness of space. Plus, they want to find out what the changes in atmosphere will have on the cargo.
And that brings us to their experiment.
In November 2019, the company sent 12 bottles of Bordeaux to the International Space Station. The plan is to leave the bottles on the station for 12 months before bringing them back to Earth.
Now, we know what you’re thinking already.
This is just a cheap PR stunt to get the company’s name in the news. And seeing as we’re writing about them, it would appear that the stunt worked.
But Space Cargo Unlimited says that there’s a little more to what they’re doing than that.
A press release from the company states:
“Space Cargo Unlimited will investigate how space radiation and microgravity affect wine components during the aging process.
“This could yield results that help in understanding taste enhancement and food conservation. In this approach, Space Cargo Unlimited is following in the footsteps of Louis Pasteur, a founding father of modern biology, who, while studying wine in the 19th century, discovered the existence of bacteria and how to maximize the role of yeast.”
It all sounds rather grand.
Beyond this, the idea is to pave the way for a future that’s a long way from arriving, at least in our eyes. The company wants to find out about the effects that the vastness of space has on the wine to see if it’s possible to transport it over such huge distances.
I guess that means that they’re preparing for a future where space tourists may want a tipple or two while they’re on a trip.
The Actual Experiment
While we’ve had a bit of a joke about the idea, it does look like there’s some serious science behind this little experiment.
The wines that are getting shot into space will be kept on the space station for one year at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. They will then come home, where they’ll be compared to a set of control samples of the same wine that’s been aged for the same amount of time on Earth.
Researchers want to discover what effects, if any, that radiation and microgravity have on the wine. And with the concept of space tourism edging closer into reality with the work of companies like SpaceX, the ideas certainly coming at the right time.
After all, somebody who can afford to take a trip into space will surely appreciate having a few luxuries available to them when they get there.
The experiment is also a part of a larger experiment that will examine the effects that being in space has on a variety of plants.
Is This What the Future Looks Like?
Looking deeper into the future, we can see a picture starting to emerge of what life will be like in the years to come.
Just imagine turning up to your local travel agency and flipping through a selection of rockets. You make your choice and, a few weeks later, head out for your flight into space.
You land at a space station to be greeted with food and wine. And thus, your holiday begins.
Whether this will become a reality at any point in our lifetimes is up for debate. But it’s interesting to see that researchers are already preparing for the possibility long before the first commercial space trips become a reality.
The Final Word
We’re not going to claim that we have anywhere near the level of scientific acumen to predict what will happen during this experiment.
It will certainly be interesting to see what effects radiation will have on the wine. Perhaps it will come back in 12 months’ time in an unfit condition. Or maybe, we’ll see that the effects are so minor that the concept of storing wine on a space station is actually viable.
We’re also interested to see what effects having less oxygen around might have. While the space station certainly has oxygen, the whole composition of the air there is different to what it is on Earth.
Who knows how that might change the quality of a wine?
But for now, we’re going to turn out sights back to Terra Firma. Today, the best way to age a wine is still to follow the rules for storage in a cellar.
Perhaps in the years to come, will learn that space can be the new wine cellar.