Will SynBio replace the French Wine Industry?

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Ava Winery is creating cheap, sustainable and customizable wine without grapes, yeast or fermentation. The company plans to commercialize its first product in the coming months, will they be able to steal customers from the most famous French wine companies?

Ava Winery logoAva Winery claims that 90% of tasters cannot tell its prototype apart from traditional wine. The US start-up raised €2.42M ($2.7M) in August in a round led by Hong-Kong giant Horizon Ventures to perfect the product. The plan is to start commercialization in the next 6 to 12 months and the first bottles are already available for pre-order.

The idea behind this company is simple: wine is just a mixture of chemicals (water, sugars, alcohol, organic volatiles, flavonoids…), and therefore can be made putting these components together. The concept started out as a home experiment and now counts with high-tech chromatography equipment to help identify wine components.

But why develop a new method of making wine? The fanciest of the beverages can reach prices higher than €10,000, which means most of us will never be able to taste them. However, this new technology saves time and money and can potentially replicate any wine. In fact, the founders claim their technology could be used to explore what makes a wine great and create a whole-new range of flavors.

Even better, this process uses 50 to 100 times less water and does not require the exploitation of huge plantation areas. And since the product is made from sterilized components it won’t go bad.

Ava WInery Components
Figure 1. Ava Winery plans to create wine from scratch by mixing its main components

However, the company still has a long way to go. Its investment funds will go into developing methods to quantify the complex molecular mixtures of wine. Tuning the precise amounts of each of the hundred components that interact with each other in a wine is an essential step to improve the flavor.

But the main challenges are further downstream; the product needs to achieve wine classification from regulatory agencies and the marketing strategy could prove tough. Though the concept is great, some people might be reluctant to substitute their favorite wine for a lab-made version. The company might be competing with Replica Wine, which also recreates great wines with cheap alternatives, though still using old-fashioned grape fermentation.

Ava Winery is another food-tech SynBio company, much like Perfect Day (previously Muufri), a start-up that makes cow milk without the cowsSynBio is trying to revolutionize the way we approach food: the development of technologies that reduce the huge environmental impact of agricultural practices is currently one of the main challenges of our growing population.

Could these alternatives truly replace the best traditional wines one day? Can they really match the flavor and texture? Or will our love for tradition make us settle for the original? We might have some answers soon when the products reach the market.

Explore other topics: SustainabilitySynthetic biology

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