Drew Sofflet

Drew Stofflet

I once met a couple who was dining at the restaurant where I was pouring wine. When I finished the welcome and the order, and I had placed a glass of red wine in front of the woman, the man said that she had a trick, and implored me to ask her to show it to me. Turns out, she was in recovery from head trauma as a result of a car accident, and shyly, she said she now has the ability to make the molecular structure of the contents of a glass of wine fall apart.

Normally, I’m pretty into this kind of paranormal stuff, but I feigned a sort of ennui, lack of interest and gave a less than enthusiastic response, something like: “OK, but, um, why would you want to do that?” So she proceeded to assume the position, cupping her hands fully and firmly around the glass and thus commenced her practice of destroying the wine. The man then urged me to smell it. As it put my nose to it, he blurted out: “See!?”

It totally smelled like wine to me.

Bottles in space:

I started thinking about that strange encounter yesterday after a morning scroll through the interwebs pointed me to a news story in the Nov. 5 edition of Decanter Magazine called, “Bordeaux Wine Fired Into Space To Test Ageing.”

The author of the piece, Chris Mercer, announced: “A Northrop Grumman rocket blasted off from a NASA launchpad in Virginia on 2 November, sending the Bordeaux wines into space among 3,700kg of research and supply cargo that also included a zero-gravity baking oven.”

He continues with the quip that (sadly): “The wines were not part of the International Space Station’s Christmas dinner planning; researchers hope to study how radiation in space affects the ageing process.”

The wine — a case of unspecified red Bordeaux — will spend a year aboard the Cygnus spaceship, as part of a joint study by the University of Bordeaux’s ISW Wine Institute and Space Cargo Unlimited. The wine will rest untouched (by hand or mouth) at 18 degrees Celsius, which is just above cellar temp, perhaps so the wine can be in a more dynamic temperature for ageing, more exposure to falling apart. I’m again thinking of my lady from the story with that apparent skill. An identical case of red Bordeaux will be held here on Earth in the same conditions as a controlled sample.

Mercer quotes Emmanuel Etcheparre, co-founder of Space Cargo Unlimited speaking to France’s SudOuest newspaper: “Ageing wine incorporates some of the essential elements of the terrestrial biological ecosystem, such as yeasts, bacteria, crystals, colloids and polyphenols.”

The study will focus on how these elements — mainly the tannins and other solids involved in ageing wine — will behave at zero gravity and with different forces of radiation at play.

Red planet, red wine:

After reading this article, I looked back at some of Mercer’s other works and found more on the same subject: Wine in space. Seems he is like the Patrick McGovern of wine and space. McGovern, you might know from some of my writing, is a celebrated biomolecular archeologist and anthropologist at the Penn Museum, often called the “Indiana Jones of ancient ales, wines, and extreme beverages,” uncovering things like the history of fermented drink and the ingredients of the Midas Feast.

In his Decanter Magazine article “Could Red Wine Help Power A Mission To Mars?” from July 19, Mercer asks that question, though it is not about powering a rocketship with our favorite juice, though that does sound like a really cool idea. Maybe a good use for all of that excess bulk wine just sitting around Napa, Sonoma and the Central Valley at the moment.

Rather, the study looks to a key compound in red wine as a possible superfood or nutritional support for long journeys into space. The compound in question is resveratrol, which has long been thought to be the healing grace of red wine, blessing human imbibers with everything from healthy skin and hearts to longevity. For this particular study, the focus is the possibility that resveratrol may help astronauts (and perhaps future civilian space travelers) maintain bone and muscle mass while on Mars.

Not so fast, as Mercer again spoils our wildest dreams of a Bordeaux-and-Burgundy party in space: “However, it’s unlikely that astronauts will be loading up their space shuttle with Château Angélus or Romanée-Conti for a daily toast on the red planet.” The amount of red wine needed to get one gram of resveratrol per day would be anywhere from 505 to 2,762 liters of red wine. The participants in the study, again, sadly, will be administered resveratrol in concentrated supplements.

No red wine pills here, and as I type, the wine is piling up, with Thanksgiving just around the corner. I’ll be blowing that horn of plenty in the next few editions of “Wine Reveals Truth.”

Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.

Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at drew.stofflet@gmail.com