FROM NASA TO NAPA: A SPACED OUT WINEMAKER
In 2002, I was approached by a KES Science and the University of Wisconsin about performing a clinical trial at our winery. They had developed a product for NASA to facilitate growing gardens in space. You see, the problem they had with their gardens in the International Space Station was that the air was static. You can’t really open up the window for fresh air in space. During the ripening of plants, ethylene gas is produced. Unfortunately, ethylene gas also causes the fruit or vegetable to rot before being consumed. The resulting product, The Airocide, eliminated the ethylene gas in the environment. Also was an exciting side effect, the significant elimination of airborne mold spores. This is where I came into play.
Our new barrel room, which we moved into in 2001, had fairly stagnant air in the winter time, resulting in significant airborne mold. My goal in wine making is to make the wine reflect the fruit as it comes in from the vineyard, not cellar defects. Given time, this airborne mold could adversely change the wine. I engaged in a trial with KES, installing their air filters (the Airocide as it became known) throughout the barrel room. We developed a testing strategy by which air from the room would be sampled and plated. The resulting plates were incubated and mold spores counted by an independent lab. Within 8 hours, we had a 50% reduction of airborne mold spores. By 24 hours we were down by 95% and after 72 hours, over 99.9% of the spores were removed.
KES went on to market this device and it has been widely installed throughout the Napa Valley. Most notably, wineries with TCA issues in their cellar have gone crazy over this product. TCA, like ethylene gas, is a Volatile Organic Compound, so the reaction chamber eliminates that as well as the mold spores.
Earlier this year, a NASA film crew came by the winery asking me to take part in a project showing how research in space benefits all of us here on the planet. Being a kid at heart who grew up with the excitement of the space shuttle program, I was tickled to participate. I hope you enjoy the end result.