Back in 2013, a study from scientists at Conservation International predicted a steady decline in wine production from famed vineyards in areas of France, Italy, Chile, and California, resulting in a two-thirds drop-off by the year 2050. The silver lining, however, was that areas once considered unsuitable for wine production—regions like the hills of central China—would boost their output and push a greater variety of grapes into the market.
Still, even as China’s fledgling wine industry has been attempting to produce award-winning vino in areas like the Tibetan plateau, the Gobi desert, and Ningxia province, the country isn’t taking any chances when it comes to harsh, unforgiving climates.
According to the Guardian, the China National Space Administration has launched three types of grapes into orbit in the hopes that the vines will develop genetic mutations, allowing the berries to survive under harsh weather conditions and unforgiving soil.
Sourced from a nursery in Ningxia’s Helan mountains—an area sometimes called the Bordeaux of China— the grapes are used in the production of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and pinot noir, and took flight with the new space lab Tiangong-2 last week. The grapes will be left in zero gravity until a team of two researchers arrive in October to study the plants for any genetic changes.
As Time notes, vineyards in Ningxia and Xinjiang are challenged by incredibly arid climates, and in the winter farmers will bury their crops in an attempt to shield the plants from the freezing cold. In Ningxia, where a number of China's most prized wines continue to be made, temperatures are known to drop well below zero.
Scientists hope that "space radiation" will help the grapes gain a resistance to this type of cold, as well as viruses and drought—something California wine makers may want to also pay attention to.
Still, Time speculates that there might be a specific reason why the country chose this time of year to launch its experiment.
“The auspicious launch date is perhaps a nod to Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival folklore, as legend tells the story of the moon goddess, Chang’e, levitating all the way in to space after getting drunk on the ‘elixir of life,” the magazine writes.
Sounds like a good enough reason to us.