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Scientists Create Never-Ending Wine Machine

[DIGEST: ScienceAlert, Popular Science, EPFL]

For thirsty oenophiles, a new invention out of the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne might just be a godsend. Requiring only grape juice and small compartments of yeast, the machine can produce wine in a mere hour compared to the typical one to three weeks of the traditional fermentation process. The downside? It only makes one milliliter of wine per hour, which means you’d have to wait nearly a week to enjoy that glass of wine. Oh, and the machine won’t be available to the public any time soon.

Daniel Attinger, the inventor of the “micro winery,” is a microfluidics researcher from Iowa State University in addition to being a wine connoisseur. He came up with the device so winemakers could test different types of yeast and different temperatures of fermentation quickly and cheaply. This could be particularly useful in light of the agriculture disruption caused by climate change. In the past, French wine grapes usually only matured early during periods of drought; now they’re maturing early regardless of precipitation levels.

Credit: Source.

“Due to the heat, some crops ripen too quickly, the harvest takes place sooner, and the wines end up with a higher alcohol content or a different taste,” Attinger said in a press release from the École Polytechnique. “We need to find a way to analyze and adapt how the wine is made.”

Attinger’s machine works by forcing the grape juice through a main channel with the yeast divided from the juice by a thin membrane. The holes of the membrane are so tiny that they force the chemical reaction between the yeast and the sugar (yeast cells eat sugar molecules, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide) to happen much more quickly than

usual. The yeast compartments act a bit like teabags; as the juice passes by, the yeast seeps very slowly into it and transforms it into wine. Hundreds of types of yeast are commercially available to wine producers, and each is associated with a different flavor. By using this machine instead of making full batches of wine, winemakers could save a lot of time and money on the testing process.

Philippe Renaud, the head of the EPFL’s Microsystems Laboratory and the son of winemakers, said the lab was most interested in the scientific rather than commercial use of the micro winery.

“We ‘screen’ the yeast, which consists of analyzing what the yeast produces as a function of the conditions that we determine,” Renaud said. “Pharmaceutical companies are also interested in this type of process, and by the same type of yeast, in order to produce certain substances.”

The fermentation process in a steel tank. Credit: Source.

For now, wine lovers will have to wait to lay their hands on the perpetual wine machine. But it might mean even better bottles coming out in the future.