Typically, wine-making involves fermenting barrels-worth of grape juice into cases of 750 milliliter bottles of wine. Even without aging the results, this process can take weeks. But a researcher in Switzerland is encouraging winemakers to think smaller: He has figured out a way to miniaturize the process – in a somewhat similar fashion to how scientists shrunk giant computers down to tiny microchips – and has created what’s been dubbed a “micro winery,” able to spit out wine samples at less than a sip at a time.
Developed by American professor Daniel Attinger at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), this “micro winery” makes vino in less than an hour and does so continuously, but it hasn’t found some magic secret to instantly churning out Cabernet. Instead, it compartmentalizes extremely small amounts of wine for individual fermentation, only producing one milliliter of wine per hour in total.
The site Phys.org explains the process: “The device has a main channel through which the grape juice winds its way. The yeast is placed in adjacent compartments and feeds into the main channel through a very thin membrane with holes called nanopores…. When the grape juice reaches the yeasts, they absorb the sugar and give off alcohol and CO2 through the membrane. This process takes place very quickly, since the sugar and yeast are confined in such a small space.”
The results aren’t intended for drinking, but for testing. (Wine drinkers are patient, but waiting 31 days to get 750 ml of wine isn’t any more efficient than the current process.) Attinger believes his new teeny winery will help winemakers evaluate different types of fermentation far more quickly and without making larger batches. “We ‘screen’ the yeast, which consists of analyzing what the yeast produces as a function of the conditions that we determine,” Philippe Renaud, the head of EPFL's Microsystems Laboratory, stated.
So yes, a “micro winery” is less exciting than it sounds for a casual drinker. It’s not something you can carry around in your purse and take to parties. But the technology could lead to better wine. That’s always toast-worthy – even if you have to toast a wine made at a normal-sized winery.