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03.22.2006

Waiter, I'd Like The Vitamin Fortified Cabernet

Let me say straight off the bat that I'm a fan of modern science and medicine. We're doing some amazing things when it comes to understanding many aspects of the world around us. I'll even go so far as to say I'm not entirely against genetically modifying some foods, especially when it's done with humanitarian or critical health goals and is absent the draconian, ahem, corporate politics of folks like Monsanto.

But sometimes, science just seems stupid.

This little experiment seems like it started with the best intentions: an effort to understand the genetics of tannin production in wine. A byproduct of the experiment seems to be an understanding of which genes are responsible for the creation of vitamin C in grapes. Instead of just saying, "Oh, that's interesting" and going back to figuring out useful stuff about tannins, these researchers seem to have been possessed with the ghost of Linus Pauling, and are now off trying to see if they can genetically engineer wine grapes to produce large quantities of vitamin C.

Um. Hello? I'd prefer to get my vitamins ANY other way than from wine. Most of the things I really enjoy eating and drinking are bad for me and I'd prefer to keep them that way. OK, so there are some health benefits already from drinking wine, but for pete's sake, there are a lot of things that grape scientists could be figuring out instead of this.

What could those be you ask? In case there are any grape scientists reading I'd like to now present Vinography's Top Five Areas for Scientific Inquiry into Wine:

1. Do the Biodynamic preparations and voodoo like mystical practices like stirring 50 times in one direction and 50 times in another direction actually do anything that can be measured or quantified?

2. What are the physio-chemical manifestations of terroir when it comes to the chemical composition of the grape?

3. Do corks really let oxygen into the bottle and does that oxygen really play a role in aging a wine?

4. Based on trends in global warming, where in Norway will be the best place to grow Cabernet in 30 years?

5. How can we make Carmenere actually taste good?

Spend some time on those, please. And leave the vitamins to the Flintstones.

Elsewhere in the world, scientists have decoded the entire genome for the Pinot Noir grape, a task which promises to have many more beneficial effects than increased vitamin content in the wine. The useful prospects of knowing the entire genetic blueprint for Pinot Noir include the possibility of developing more disease resistant varietal clones as well as better understanding how to make lower impact pesticides that will be better for the grapes and for the environment.

Now THAT's real wine science. Read the full story.

Comments (12)

Mithrandir wrote:
03.22.06 at 1:57 PM

Oh, come on. Wouldn't just love to pour Cab over your cheerios in the morning? And instead of offering half-pints of milk to school children, we could put Riesling in those little paper cartons!

Bob Plankers wrote:
03.22.06 at 2:49 PM

One of the interesting things with engineering food like this is unintended consequences. Okay, so your wine now has a ton of vitamin C in it. Vitamin C is great and all, but it prevents the absorption of copper by the body. Turns out copper is also something that is good for us. This is the "copper paradox" or "copper dilemma." Google it and you'll find more information.

So, what are we doing to ourselves when we pump up the vitamin C in our food? Are we doing more harm than good? Personally I'm with you -- leave the wine alone! :-) As with everything else in the world, it's all about moderation.

Alder wrote:
03.22.06 at 3:23 PM

Mithrandir,

Now there's a way to encourage the next generation of wine lovers!

Alder

Nicholas wrote:
03.22.06 at 3:56 PM

There's a difference between modifying plants to have more of a vitamin and fortifying a product with vitamins.

I'm against this, but on the grounds that genetic modifications can't be confined once they're out in the world.

Ryan Opaz wrote:
03.23.06 at 2:30 AM

Why is it we feel that we still need to have to justify our desire to drink wine? Why can't we drink wine without knowing the exact reason why it makes us happy and it tastes good. A little magic in our lives is what makes life worth living. Not to mention wine tastes great as it is...no need to eff that up by modifying it's genes!

Bob Plankers wrote:
03.23.06 at 8:38 AM

Speaking of cartons of wine, I'd love to see a vending machine with bottles of wine in it. Maybe little bottles, chilled to the perfect temperature. :-)

Alder wrote:
03.23.06 at 9:12 AM

The Japanese have been selling sake and beer in vending machines for ages. In glass bottles even. No reason it can't be done.

Tyler T wrote:
03.23.06 at 9:37 PM

Knowing the researchers, I assure you that engineering grapes for vitamin C is not the goal (not even the long term goal). Not to mention it is extremely difficult to genetically engineer grapes. But it makes a better story.

Flyer wrote:
03.24.06 at 8:25 AM

Alder - you're right about the Japanese. I remember visiting Japan in the early 80's and seeing vending machines with beer. My dad and his brother would split one at bus stops while we waited for our ride (my uncle was living near Nagoya at the time). I was a little young to imbibe, at least in public, but it's always struck me as a perfectly good idea.

As for this country, though, we'll see machine vended alcohol, be it beer, wine or spirits, when the pope sits shiva. The healthists won't go for it, nor will MADD and other interest groups, whether responsible wine (and other alcohol) consumption presents a legitimate risk or not.

Technically feasible is a long way from "no reason it can't be done."

Alder wrote:
03.24.06 at 9:06 AM

Flyer,

Still no reason it can't be done, but you've pointed out plenty of valid reasons that it WONT be done. :-)

Flyer wrote:
03.24.06 at 9:36 AM

Alder - you're right, the distinction is important.

On a related tangent, I heard a piece on NPR's Splendid Table program recently, last Saturday I believe, regarding boxed wine.

http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/souptonuts/wine_sippystraws.shtml

I'll make no comment on the quality of wine available in a box, as I, frankly, have no experience with any, but it has me thinking that increased prevelance of boxed wine, particularly in single serving containers, may be the first step in the direction of machine vended product. I still find it incredibly unlikely, for the reasons above, but putting it in a more convenient and safe package removes some of the resistance towards taking wine out of its customary setting, i.e. home or restaurant.

This raises more questions about what's possible v. what's likely, because packaging it's the easy part. Ensuring quality, and educating consumers on the quality, is a whole other ball of wax.

Sorry if this strays a little off topic.

boyd wrote:
03.29.06 at 11:39 AM

Most likely one will not see alcoholic products dispensed from a vending machine for the same reasons one no longer sees cigarette vending machines, because of the argument of the accessibility to those under the legal purchasing age.

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