Wine, the Final Frontier: China Just Started Launching Grapevines Into Outer Space

Wine, the Final Frontier: China Just Started Launching Grapevines Into Outer Space

China's wine goals are totally out of this world.

By Aly Walansky

If you've never tried Chinese wine before, get ready to taste the future. The country's version of NASA, the China National Space Administration, has launched three types of wine grapevines into space—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir—aboard its new space lab Tiangong-2, The Guardian reports.

If all goes as planned, China is poised to become a huge player in the international wine market. The hope is that the space-grapes will develop unique genetic mutations, which will help them grow under the challenging weather and soil conditions in China. After the grapes spend some time in the gravity-free space environment, scientists will study them for any genetic changes. If these intergalactic grapes can develop “a resistance” to issues like drought and extreme cold, they could massively boost the country's wine industry, and dramatically change the international wine scene.

China already has enormous potential as a global wine producer: Its vineyards occupy roughly 3,000 square miles of land, which is more than 10 percent of the world’s total vineyards, and far more than any other wine-producing country devotes to its vineyards, including heavyweight wine-exporting countries like France, Italy and the U.S. 

Winemaking in China can be traced back thousands of years, and wine drinking is increasingly popular in China as a symbol of sophistication. Two years ago, China was named the world’s largest consumer of red wine, with a total of 155.4 million cases sold there, compared with 150 million cases in France and 141 million in Italy, per a report by Vinexpo.

But at the moment, most of the wine sold in China is imported. Even with a massive amount of its land devoted to vineyards, China has a relatively low output of wine. The country is very serious about its wine industry, however, and growing domestic output is at the top of the list. That means more successful harvests with greater yields, a goal which is currently being hindered by climate. Many of China’s vineyards can be found in Ningxia, known as the Bordeaux of China, a region whose intense, as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, means death for wine grapes. China also produces wine in the Gobi desert, which sees intense heat, drastic temperature changes and very low rainfall rates.

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Supply-and-demand issues are another hurdle: "Many profit driven Chinese wineries ... sell wines to distributors [at] an unreasonably high price although the cost of making wine in China is much lower than Bordeaux,” Lu Mengxi, the owner of a winery in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, west China, tells the Shanghai Daily.

But if China's space-grapes experiment results in higher yields and a healthier wine industry? The sky is the limit, for China and for the world.

Meanwhile, China may be the first country to launch wine grapes into space, but drinking in space is not a new idea. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong reportedly drank wine on the moon during their historic voyage, and in 2011, a distillery sent unmatured malt whiskey into space to study the effects of zero-gravity on flavor.

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