Petrus and vines in space: meeting Nicolas Gaume, co-founder of Space Cargo Unltd: “We have encouraged the creation of a new variety of vines”

Tests since carried out by the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV) at the University of Bordeaux have shown that Petrus was still “a very big wine” after its stay in space. At the end of a blind tasting, differences were nevertheless noted between the “heavenly” version and the one left on earth, mainly in color, but also sometimes in the nuances of smells and tastes.

»ALSO READ: A bottle of Petrus returned from space, estimated at one million dollars

LE FIGARO. – When we look at your background, we can ask ourselves how your interest in space was born?

Nicolas Gaume. – I grew up in the world of technology, having founded or co-founded seven start-ups before creating Space Cargo Unlimited. My partner, Emmanuel Etcheparre and I fell in love with space, especially when we discovered that a lot of exciting discoveries had been born inside the International Space Station, where Thomas Pesquet will have stayed. What happened on the orbital station offered us a dizzying field of analysis, especially regarding the consequences of the absence of gravity, which cannot be recreated on Earth for a long time. For more than 4 billion years, gravity has been the only major parameter of life that has never changed, while a wide range of upheavals in other significant parameters, such as temperature or brightness, have caused plant and animal life. For example, it was the cold and darkness that caused the dinosaurs to disappear. Gravity is a great constant, a fundamental structure, and we are not aware of it. By removing gravity, we are creating enormous stress on the living. Thus, a plant faced with this stress will develop special properties and resistance to defend itself.

And what was the connection to the world of wine?

My parents were restaurateurs and my family were wine lovers. I always say that I grew up with a blessing and a curse: to have tasted at 14 my first wine with my grandfather, a Château d’Yquem 1929! I’ve always liked to have influence, especially as I get older. My mother comes from a family of farmers, my wife is very mobilized in environmental issues, as much as my partner, Emmanuel Etcheparre, we are very concerned about the environment. Above all for humanity, as well as for all the species affected by our stupidity. Human life is at risk. When we look at the last 70 years of agricultural development, always more mechanical and chemical, we can marvel at our relevance and our intelligence! One of the solutions may lie in the spatial environment. Paradoxically, the latter may allow us to return to a form of agriculture that we have lost. Of all agricultural subjects, the vine is the one that is the subject of the most research. It is the love of wine and the encouragement of great winegrowers that pushed us to embark on this adventure.

Who backed this project to send wine into space?

Denis Dubourdieu, the creator of the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV), was our first supporter of this extraordinary project, which at the time was difficult to understand by more traditional research structures. . Since then, Philippe Darrier and his ISVV team, including Stéphanie Cluzet, have been incredible partners, as well as Lionel Suchet, Director General of CNES, and the CADMOS teams. We met people who liked space and wine. They believed in us, there was this knowledge of science and technology. We realized that stress could be beneficial back on earth. Michael Lebert of FAU Erlangen University in Germany, our scientific leader, has been studying plant life in space for more than 20 years, with one last project before joining us being to send a tomato greenhouse track. We have gathered all these expertises. Wine has essential components for life: bacteria, yeast, polyphenols, which are much easier to study than the human body.

Why did you choose Petrus?

We wanted to start with a structured, stable wine that has already been the subject of a lot of research. In 2020, we are almost on a single variety. Tests carried out since by the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV) at the University of Bordeaux have shown that Petrus was still a very large wine after its stay in space. After a blind tasting, differences were noted between the terrestrial version and the space version. 11 of the 12 tasters present could clearly distinguish the two. If the differences on the olfactory level were difficult to perceive, the rum showed a color drawing more towards brick and a much more floral and long side in the mouth, like a wine that has benefited from aging for several years. Through the first batteries of analyses, we have discovered concrete elements of differentiation. We now need to carry out more precise chemical analyzes to confirm and understand these differentiations, in order to publish a detailed scientific paper on the influence of the space environment on the aging of a wine at the latest this winter.

The next step was to send vines into orbit. Tell us.

We harvested 640 vines, half Merlot, half Cabernet Sauvignon, and we put them in a device designed with CNES, kind of little boxes with holes, half of which were then sent to the orbital station, where it spent 10 months, at temperature of 2 to 3 C°, in the dark and almost without gravity, the other half remained on the ground, under the same conditions, but exposed to the gravity of the earth this time. When they came back we replanted them both. Many plants are beginning to show much greater potential for growth and resistance. We exposed the leaves to water, heat and disease stress. But our work and our analyzes must continue. Some feet have grown with a lack of roots! We have exposed the living to extreme moments, and it is life that has found a way. The space plant, by being exposed to this extreme environment, gained stronger resistance to minor stresses, back on Earth, untreated. He was given the opportunity to develop superior resilience.

What consequences can be drawn from this?

We very much hope to confirm the creation of a new variety. It is nature that has created it. In this context, we wanted to see what the properties of this plant were. We make sure these features are durable. However, we can now see that these vines grow back in the same way after a year. We want to encourage the creation of a new variety of plants, organic, which are better equipped to face climate change.

Do you want to try making wine from these vines that have stayed in circulation?

We do not yet have enough fruit this year to do microvinification. But yes absolutely, next year! If the qualities are intact, we test the entire root system so that we can enter the market in 2024 with organic, resistant quality plants. We have partnered with Mercier, in the Vendée, one of the largest wineries, to offer these plants to all interested winegrowers. We want to be able to live up to the winegrowers’ expectations for plants that are naturally resistant to, among other things, powdery mildew and black rot, while at the same time preserving the organoleptic qualities of the grapes.

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