Is Lab-Made Wine an Answer to the Industry’s Climate Change Problems?

And what the fuck is “molecular wine” anyway?

Critics of Endless West have accused the molecular spirits maker of “destroying the sanctity of wine and whiskey.”

But most of them, according to CEO and co-founder Alec Lee, are coming from “the more ‘snobby’ end of the spectrum” anyway.

Photo courtesy of Endless West

In fact, Endless West is actually doing the opposite of destruction. Molecular wine and spirits are offering a cunning solution to a lot of the climate change-wrought issues the industry is facing. 

Wrapped in contemporary white and gold packaging with a minimalist nod to its science lab roots, Gemello ($15) is an “indulgent and fruit-forward” white wine containing notes of orange blossom, mango, and lychee. It’s sold along with its molecular siblings Glyph ($40) and Kazoku ($10) (molecular whiskey and sake, respectively).

Gemello, Glyph, and Kazoku are “a lot more environmentally efficient” according to Josh Decolongon, co-founder of Endless West and an experienced sommelier. “We source [individual molecules] from natural places in nature — fruits, yeast, plants,” Decolongon says.

Compare that to traditional processes. Whiskey, for example, uses white oak for its barrels, and owes much of its flavor to that aging process. 

Glyph, on the other hand, “has never seen the inside of a barrel.” According to Endless West, it requires 90 percent less wood and 40 percent less agricultural land to make. Endless West also reduces carbon emissions from transporting logs of white oak and tons of whiskey since they don’t use barrels and they’re local to San Francisco, the city they primarily sell their products in. Its wine and sake boast similar statistics.

Photo courtesy of Endless West

Moreover, Endless West is offering a way of archiving certain flavors too. As regions shift, certain varieties of wine may be lost in the process.

But with Endless West, you’ll have a way of saving that specific flavor in a lab. It may not have come from the same timeline or vineyard, but it might taste close to the real thing.

“A lot of people are really excited about what it can do in their portfolios because they see a lot of the impacts from climate change increasing the difficulty of supply chains,” Lee says.

And just because its products are made in a lab doesn’t mean Endless West is sacrificing any flavor. Last year, Glyph won a silver medal at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America tasting competition. The whole point of “molecular made” alcohol is that they can source whatever flavor they want — as long as they can find it in nature. 

Critics of Endless West have also called products like Gemello “synthetic,” but Lee would like to remind everyone that their molecular wine might actually be way more “natural” than whatever you pick up at Trader Joe’s.

“We’re just extracting those molecules — like vanilla extract from vanilla beans — and purifying them further,” Lee says. There’s nothing artificial about Endless West, Lee claims. “We’re not even adding sulfites to our wine.”

Endless West doesn’t view their molecular products as a way of replacing wine and spirits, but as a way of adding to that repertoire. And besides, it’s just fun to experiment with all the ways you can make alcoholic drinks.

“The inherency of human condition is to explore the unexplored,” Lee says. “And this is a very much unexplored area.”

Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com.

Tags: , , ,

Related Stories