New device creates ‘non-stop’ wine, but there’s a catch

8 Jul 2016

It sounds like the stuff of dreams – or a parable from a religious text – but scientists have developed a device that can turn grape juice into wine in just one hour, but sadly we can’t get access to it.

We’re constantly told that good wine cannot be rushed, and that even the laborious efforts to make it is part of the ‘experience’.

This process, at its very minimum, can take weeks to produce wine, which, aside from disappointing thirsty drinkers, is actually is a bit of a problem for the wine industry.

Future Human

If you need to test your recently-made wine and compare it with a similar sample, this process of a few weeks turnaround before the first results can show goes against everything you’d imagine as part of a commercial business.

From weeks to one hour

For this reason, Prof Daniel Attinger from Iowa State University and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have ‘poured’ their efforts into a new device that can reduce this weeks-long turnaround into just one hour.

Wine drinkers should note immediately that this device will not be appearing in your kitchen anytime soon – or ever, probably – as its intention is simply to be part of the testing process for winemakers, but it can produce drinkable wine at a rate of one millilitre every hour.

With such a short turnaround time to create wine, winemakers now have the chance to get very experimental with different yeasts that can all produce different types of wine.

The device also saves the winemaker having to generate huge quantities of liquid by funnelling the grape juice through one main channel where it then reaches the yeast having gone through a porous membrane that acts much like a teabag.

Wine making

Philippe Renaud (left), head of EPFL’s Microsystems Laboratory and Prof Daniel Attinger of Iowa State University with the wine-making device. Image via EPFL/Alain Herzog

‘Not as good as normal wine’

Once this has happened, the fermentation process begins much quicker due to the tight compartments of the sugar and yeast.

There’s also another, equally important reason for being able to develop wine at such a pace, and that reason is climate change.

“Climate change is having an impact on the quality of grape crops around the world,” said Prof Attinger.

“Due to the heat, some crops ripen too quickly, the harvest takes place sooner and the wines end up with a higher alcohol content or a different taste. We need to find ways to analyse and adapt how the wine is made.”

Just to add a further dampener on the idea of this being worth commercialising for the home, Philippe Renaud, the head of EPFL’s Microsystems Laboratory, has said it’s a nice idea, but not worth the effort.

“It uses a simplified process and the result is currently not as good as normal wine,” he said.

We can still dream.

Wine glass image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic