How does wine age in zero gravity? A case of Bordeaux returns from trip to ISS

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After two extended trips to the International Space Station (ISS), twelve bottles of wine and 320 vine shoots have finally returned home to Bordeaux, where tests will be carried out to investigate the effects of ageing in the thermosphere on France's most celebrated drop.

The red wine and 320 mature shoots, known as canes, arrived Monday after their return to Earth via the Dragon capsule operated by SpaceX, the private launching company.

They will be analysed at the Institute of Vine and Wine Science in Bordeaux to see how the stresses produced by zero gravity affect both grape growth and the finished product.

The initiative could spur a new trend in agricultural research.

"The WISE Mission is the first private applied research programme aimed at using spatial conditions to tackle agricultural challenges of tomorrow, on a warmer planet and with less water," said Nicolas Gaume.

Gaume and his partner Emmanuel Etcheparre founded their Space Cargo Unlimited group for carrying out a range of research projects in zero gravity.

Agricultural research

The dozen bottles of Bordeaux spent 438 days on the ISS, which orbits in the thermosphere – which is in the outer layers of the Earth's atmosphere, but with a density so low that it resembles what's typically referred to as outer space.

The bottles will be compared with 12 similar wines stored in similar conditions on Earth, while the vine plants – half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Merlot – were stored 312 days.

A private expert tasting of the wine is planned for later this month.

"The only thing that changes compared with Earth is the near-total absence of gravity, which produces immense stress for life on the ISS," said Gaume.

Plants that can be made resilient to such stress might also be able to better cope with environmental changes produced by climate change.

"The things we learn about wine we also plan to develop for other agricultural uses," he said.

The cost of the project, carried out with the University of Erlangen in Germany and France's CNES space agency, was not disclosed.

It was not the first time wine has been sent into orbit: In 1985, Jean-Michel Caze, owner of the storied Chateau Lynch-Bages, gave French astronaut Patrick Baudry a small bottle of its 1975 vintage for a Space Shuttle launch in Houston.

But no one got to sample the wine in weightlessness -- it stills sits unopened on a dining-room shelf in Caze's home.

(with AFP)