Can This Startup’s Synthetic Wine Compete With Napa’s Best?

By Marisa Kendall
The Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The founders of “Ava Winery” see their work as part of a broader movement, helping society make what they see as an inevitable shift toward synthetic food.

SAN FRANCISCO

The founders of Ava Winery spend their days turning water into wine.

They aren’t miracle workers. They’re chemists with one goal, to reverse engineer the perfect bottle of wine, in a lab, without grapes.

By freeing their wine from the confines of the grape harvest, Ava’s founders say they’re creating a more environmentally sustainable, predictable and cost-effective beverage. It’s the same logic a growing number of food-tech companies already embrace, from Memphis Meats making lab-grown chicken, to Clara Foods making animal-free egg whites, as some experts worry about the toll farming and livestock take on the Earth.

Perhaps most importantly, Ava’s founders swear the majority of people who taste their wine side-by-side with a traditional variety can’t tell which one is synthetic and which is made from fermented grapes.

“The product we end up with is chemically identical to wine,” co-founder Alec Lee said. “It’s indistinguishable at a molecular level.”

The idea for Ava Winery was born when co-founder Mardonn Chua, a chemist and wine enthusiast, caught a glimpse of, but couldn’t taste, a bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, a rare and world-renowned wine that can sell for more than $10,000 per bottle. In true Silicon Valley fashion, he decided he could recreate that wine, and others, and make them accessible to all wine lovers.

Instead of a winery full of musky-smelling wooden wine barrels that overlooks a Napa vineyard, Ava runs a lab in an industrial corner of San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighborhood, a stone’s throw from WineWorks winery and Triple Voodoo Brewery. There, the startup’s team of chemists use a technique called chromatography to analyze samples of traditional wine, they force small amounts of wine through a device that separates it into its molecular components. Using software to analyze those resulting molecules, the scientists then come up with their own recipe to recreate the original wine.

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