Space-aged wine expected to fetch $1 million at auction
A wine that spent 14 months on the International Space Station (ISS) is being offered up for sale by auction house Christie's. One of a dozen bottles of vintage Pétrus 2000 sent to the space station by Space Cargo Unlimited, it could bring an estimated US$1 million through Christie’s Private Sales, which will go to fund future space missions.
As anyone who has been forced to keep a decent bottle of wine in the dining room knows, the proper storage of a vintage plonk is a key factor that separates a sublime glass from a disappointing one. This is why some wine connoisseurs show a near obsession with building the perfect wine cellar, complete with climate control systems for their cherished drop.
That being said, why send a dozen bottles of Pétrus 2000 valued at US$10,000 to the ISS at a transportation cost over two and half times what the wine is worth? According to Tim Triptree MW, International Director, Christie’s Wine & Spirits Department, the goal was to learn more about how wine matures as part of a larger suite of experiments called Mission WISE (Vitis Vinum in Spatium Experimentia) to study how the stress of spaceflight affects plants as a way to improve farming.
Viticulture has been developed over millennia and is one of the closest studied, yet most mysterious fields of agriculture. In particular, how the complex mixture of chemicals along with yeast and bacteria in a bottle of wine mature over time to create a particular mix of taste, aroma, color, and texture is barely understood. By sending wine into space from November 2019 to January 2021 for a span of 440 days, the Pétrus can be kept under extremely controlled conditions without even gravity to affect it, then returned to Earth to compare with control bottles.
Aside from scientific tests, the Pétrus was also evaluated by the real judge – the human palette. On March 1, 2021, at the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV) in Bordeaux, a tasting by 12 wine professionals and scientists was arranged by Philippe Darriet, Director of the Institute’s Oenology Research Unit. According to Darriet, the wine was positively affected by its space aging, resulting in "a rich vocabulary attesting to remarkable olfactory and gustatory complexity; sensory dimensions of sweetness, harmony, and persistence were particularly noted."
The sale will not only include a bottle of the space wine, but also another bottle of Pétrus 2000 that remained behind on Earth. These will be inside a handmade trunk designed and built by the Parisian Maison d’Arts Les Ateliers Victor, that includes a decanter, glasses, and a corkscrew crafted from a meteorite. The case is secured by a secret mechanism in a solar system decoration inspired by Jules Verne and Star Trek.
"We are thrilled to partner with Christie’s and propose a unique artifact of spatial research," says Nicolas Gaume, co-founder and CEO of Space Cargo Unlimited. "After spending almost 440 days in Space, or the equivalent of 300 trips to the moon, legendary Bordeaux wine Pétrus comes back having been transformed in a way which is literally, out of this world. The proceeds of the sale will allow us to continue Mission WISE, six experiments in space to help invent the agriculture and food we need for tomorrow on Earth. It is our conviction that there is no Planet B, and we intend to pave the way for our future by leveraging microgravity and enticing accelerated natural evolutions in a spatial environment. The product of the sale will help attain our objectives."