China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet csavignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth — including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rock slopes of Ningxia Province.
Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,
“Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.
“In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.”
Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.
The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.
The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.
In October, China sent two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.
When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in the Ningxia nursery.
The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua recently visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Freezing temperatures and unfavorable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F) winters.
Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.
The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.
After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.
China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only into the world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.
The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.
“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”
Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off in China it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.
“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.
“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”
On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts were using the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research.”