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Is it Possible to Make Wine Without Using Grapes?

It there on indisputable truth about wine, it is this…

It’s made using grapes.

It doesn’t matter if its Italian wine, French wine, or wine from any other country, it’s all about the grapes.

The grapes sued play a huge role in giving a wine its character. In Italian wine, we have the DOC and DOCG regulation that even specify which grapes to use (and how much of them) for particular vintages of wine.

The use of grapes is the one constant in the ever-changing world of wine…

Except it isn’t anymore.

There’s a new wave of wine producers who’ve decided that it’s time to ditch the grape and start making wines using other fruits.

We can already hear the shouts of the traditionalists among you. To some, there should be no such thing as a wine that isn’t made using grapes. It’s almost heresy.

But it’s happening.

And in this article, we’re going to explore the efforts of one winery that isn’t just avoiding the use of grapes in their wine production. They’re also avoiding the use of fermentation in an effort to create a simulation of the famous Dom Pérignon Champagne.

The Story

It all starts with a company called Ava.

Based in California, the producer has the unique goal of creating wines without using many of the traditional ingredients and processes that we’ve used to make wine for centuries.

Part of that involves not using grapes.

In the case of this company, it’s all about the chemistry. Instead of growing and fermenting grapes, they start with straight ethanol. For those who don’t already know, ethanol is the chemical name for pure alcohol and it has a lot of different functions.

From there, the company experiments with a number of flavour compounds to see what they can come up with. This compound are used to give each of their products the unique notes that wine lovers look for.

For example, the use of ethyl hexanoate lends the wine produced a note of pineapple.

In essence, these producers have decided to skip all of the natural processes that go into making a traditional bottle of wine. Instead, they’re trying to break wine down to its base chemical elements and then build it back up using science.

It’s an interesting concept.

What we have here are synthetic wines that appear to have all of the same qualities as the real thing. However, they don’t take years to produce and age.

Right now, the company’s focused on creating a replica of the Dom Pérignon champagne. However, they’ve already managed to pull off a reasonable simulation of the famous Italian wine Moscato d’Asti.

We can’t imagine that it would get through the rigorous testing of the DOC, of course. Not using any grapes and not coming from Italy puts paid to that idea.

However, we’re very curious to see how the wine stacks up to a real Moscato d’Asti. We wonder if it’s simply a sparkling wine that tastes a little similar to Moscato d’Asti. Or, perhaps it’s a wine that matches the chemical composition of Moscato d’Asti so closely that it’s practically indistinguishable from the real thing.

The reception to these synthetic wines has been…less than enthusiastic.

Alan Deloire, who’s the director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University in Australia, has a succinct definition of the concept:

“It’s nonsense, to be honest with you.”

That’s a pretty damning indictment.

Another critic who had the opportunity to taste Ava’s Moscato d’Asti also has some pretty biting remarks:

He claimed that it tasted like one those “inflatable sharks you take to the pool.”

We wonder if this is simply proof that it’s not possible to create great wines synthetically. Or, is this a case of traditionalists rallying against a new idea and thus ignoring any of its merits.

We’re inclined to think that it’s the former, simply because we can’t really wrap our heads around the concept of a synthetic wine made using pure ethanol and other chemicals. You simply lose so much of what makes a bottle of wine special. Beyond the grapes themselves, you’re losing what the terroir gives to the wine.

You’re losing the care and attention that the producer pays the grape, as well as the production methods that have an impact on how the end product tastes.

The fact that we don’t see synthetic wines in stores right now suggests that this idea may be a failure. 

However, there are other wines out there that don’t make use of grapes…

The Fruit Wines

There are a number of companies out there that make wines using fruits other than grapes.

Take Chateau Fontaine as an example. They make a red wine using cherries, which is a nice touch seeing as the winery is located in France’s cherry capital.

Other producers have made wines using peaches, apples, and other fruits.

On one hand, there’s still a part of us that says that wine can only come from grapes.

However, this is a form of alternative wine production that will likely see more success than the synthetic option.

After all, the use of other fruits may seem strange. But these fruits still have to be grown, which means they still experience the same levels of care as grapes. They also come from the land, which means the terroir can influence their flavour.

And of course, we still see the fermentation process occurring, even with the use of other fruits.

We’re not going to say that wines made using other fruits is an amazing idea. However, we believe that there’s a potential niche here that shows they have far more potential than synthetic wines.

Think about it like this.

If we told you that we offered a peach wine, would you at least be curious to try it? What if your favourite traditional wines all have peach notes? Perhaps a wine made using peaches themselves would have even more of what you love.

It’s an interesting concept.

We believe that wines made using alternative fruits will become more popular as time goes on.

As for synthetic wines…we’re not holding out too much hope.

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