Steve Mann: Michael David Winery sends grape juice to the space station

Winemakers at Michael David Winery prepare grape juice to be sent to the International Space Station as part of an experiment to see how the juice ferments in space.

You’ve heard for years that Lodi wine is “out of this world,” but now there’s proof. Lodi’s Michael David Winery sent a small amount of their grape juice to the International Space Station in February, hitching a ride aboard the Northrop-Grumman NG-15 resupply mission.

It’s part of an experiment being conducted to determine how grape juice decomposes (ferments) in space. In fact, Michael David is the first winery in history to conduct wine fermentation in outer space, according to Jeff Farthing, a winemaker at Michael David Winery and the “smarty-pants wine guy” who developed the project.

Theirs is one of hundreds of unrelated experiments being conducted at the space station, according to Farthing. It is officially known among scientists and at the space station as the “Grape Microbiota” project. The results may give scientists a better understanding of how to grow food in space, says Farthing.

The space juice will make its return trip to earth on July 20 aboard the Space-X 22 mission, says Farthing, splashing down near Florida. Once back on earth the fermented juice will be tested and compared to an identical experiment being conducted by Farthing at the winery. Everything reacts differently in outer space, he says. They’ve been told to expect the unexpected. Depending on the test results, Michael David may attempt to make wine from it, says winery co-owner Dave Phillips. Maybe they’ll name it “Moonshot?”

DOG TALE: It all started in January with a guy named Tony, who was on vacation in Sayulita, Mexico. On the veranda of his Airbnb rental, he noticed this beautiful dog, a Mexican Belgian Shepherd, tethered to a building on a 4-foot leash.

The dog cried and barked day and night, and it was very skinny. He said in a video posted online that the owner just ignored the dog. Over the course of a week, he and the pooch became friends.

Eventually Tony was able to convince the owner to let him take the dog for a walk, to “give him a taste of freedom.” He named the dog Toby.

The two bonded, and Tony decided to buy Toby, to give him a new life. He appealed for donations online and was able to raise $250, which is what the owner accepted for the dog. Tony gave Toby to an animal rescue, and the two parted ways. After a trip to a local vet and all the required paperwork completed, Toby was on a plane headed for America — to a new life and a new forever home across the border.

Toby was eventually taken in by Susan Hsu, a volunteer with Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, who would foster the dog.

As fate would have it, Lodi’s Maria Pallavicini was looking to adopt a rescue dog to replace her beloved pet that she recently had to put down. Well, you know the rest of the story. Maria and Toby are new best friends. And it all happened thanks to a stranger she’ll never meet who sought to change the life of a dog.

THE END: What’s going on next to and behind Guild Cleaners? Men and trucks have been seen there recently digging up the pavement. What gives?

It’s essentially a quiet ending to the PCE\TCE cleanup efforts at what was once the city’s largest underground contamination plume. About 25 years ago the state came to town, telling several businesses they had contaminated the soil by discarding cleaning solvents down the drain. It was true.

The solvent leaked through the sewer lines, and over the years the chemicals percolated down through the dirt and were seeping into the water table below. Water and soil samples confirmed this. The state said it was a health risk and ordered the businesses to clean up the mess. Bring money. Lots of money.

The cost would likely bankrupt every business that was involved. That’s when the city stepped in and came up with a plan to collect the cleanup costs from insurance companies that had policies in force at the time. There ensued an epic legal battle. The city suffered some key legal defeats, which cost the city attorney at the time his job. But the city was ultimately able to settle with the insurance companies, who ended up paying most of the tab.

Steve Schwabauer, who became city attorney halfway through the battle, is widely credited with helping the city navigate the considerable legal morass and bring it to a conclusion.

Now, crews from Diede Construction are removing the remediation apparatus from the “central plume” site in the alley behind the cleaners and the Oddfellows Building.

The state has said the dirt has been cleaned to their satisfaction. The only cleanup effort remaining is at Church and Tokay, a much smaller problem.

The whole process has taken more than 20 years and over $10 million dollars, not including litigation costs. Schwabauer, who is now city manager, estimates there’s still about $9 million left in the cleanup fund — hopefully more than enough for what remains to be done.

FACELIFT: Facade improvements are coming for the former Save Mart grocery store on Kettleman Lane. The store closed last year but will soon reopen as a Food Maxx. The store is still owned by the Save Mart Company. … Fiori’s Butcher Shoppe will only be open weekdays starting next Monday, a departure from their longtime Tuesday-Saturday schedule. … Next time you go to Young’s Ace Hardware in the Lakewood Mall for BBQ supplies, you can also pick up a pie for dinner. A pie? Yep, they sell frozen pies made by The Pie Company in Ripon, who says they’ll last up to a year in the freezer, or “a few minutes on the dinner table.”

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: The Harmony Homes project has started. Site improvements have begun at the corner of Washington Street and Lodi Avenue. Four “tiny homes” will be built on the site that will house folks who may have been homeless, or could be in danger of being homeless.

They will also be vetted and recommended by organizations such as the Salvation Army.

Occupants will have completed a variety of recovery and rehabilitation programs in order to qualify, according to Lodi Community Development Director John Della Monica.

This is the culmination of a years-long search for a suitable site. Maple Square at the corner of Lodi Avenue and Sacramento Street and the Armory\Chapman Field at Washington and Lawrence Avenue were previous contenders.

The Armory suggestion didn’t go over well with the public, to say the least, so it was back to the drawing board. While the current project is the first, it may not be the last.

Della Monica has hinted that the city may look for additional sites to build more “tiny homes” in the future. The project is being funded by a $1.2 million state grant.

While the city is building the homes, it won’t be in the rental business; the property will be managed by the Housing Authority of San Joaquin.

LAST LAUGH: Sterlie Kruse Eaves says, “Yes, I support renewable energy. It’s called coffee.”


Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus