A True Martian Red: A Brief History Of Early Viticulture On Mars

by Kara Race-Moore

During the Martian Robotic Period, soil samples were studied intensely back on Earth, both for any signs of extraterrestrial life and, just as importantly, to see if the Martian soil would support the terrestrial kind.[1] Initial analyses were hotly debated over, with decades of argument in the scientific community over the methane issue, but there were no definitive signs of Martian life.[2] As the debate roared on, the rovers continued to placidly dig into the red dirt, and analyses continued back on Earth.[3] There were promising results for the possibility of being able to grow Terran crops.[4] Scientists were optimistic, well before humans set foot on the planet, that Red Mars could soon become Green Mars, with just a little human ingenuity.[5]

The hubris of our species knows no bounds, and it would be several catastrophic failures before the farms of Mars became an established part of the landscape. While Dr. Calvin “First Step” FitzSimmons, first human to set foot on Mars, also claimed the title of Mars’s first farmer, it would be several generations before farming was anyone’s sole occupation, instead of being one of many hats any given colonist would wear.[6]

When the Pegasus landed on Sinai Planum, just south of the Valles Marineris, bringing the first humans to Mars, the ship also brought seeds, plants, and the first alcohol on the planet, a bottle of champagne that was the result of years of research, design and experimentation to ensure it would survive the flight, specifically packed to be part of the landing celebrations.[7]

At this point, consuming or creating alcohol on Mars was considered a waste of resources by the designers, a waste of money by the politicians, and morally dubious by the public, and so, besides that first bottle of champagne, alcohol was strictly prohibited.[8]

There are a few tantalizing hints in the primary documents from that time period of illegal stills being set up by the Original Seven. However, the only verified alcohol during the first years were the occasional bottles of hard liquors such as whiskey and vodka brought to Mars as part of goodwill and PR moves to satisfy various sponsoring countries and corporations.[9] Wine would have to wait. 

One of the most important features of Mars One was the plants. There were two main agriculture areas to the primary layout: the Greenhouse, where most of the carefully controlled botany studies and experiments took place, and the Garden, where there was less focus on scientific study and more on just growing as much plant life as possible for food, oxygen, and a place for the Original Seven to sit and relax.[10] Years later, surviving members would all speak of “hanging out” together in the Garden, or even just meditating there alone, as their favorite place in the initial Mars One habitat.[11]

Grapes would be forced to “wait their turn” while experiments in growing vegetation deemed more important were performed. Tomatoes, quinoa, peas, duckweed and radishes, all chosen for sustainability, were part of the first Martian crops.[12] The first grapes would eventually be planted as a passion project by Dr. Theresa Cortez.

Dr. Cortez first came to Mars as a starry-eyed young botanist, with the ink still wet on her PhD from Stanford and a few precious cuttings from Napa.[13] The Mexican-American native Californian thought she knew a thing or two about growing gardens in deserts. She had no idea. She came to Mars as part of the Ark Project, the voyage that brought the first large group of people, including families, that expanded Mars One from just a research base to the beginning of a true settlement.[14] Dr. Cortez arrived determined to start the first Martian full-scale vineyards.

Unfortunately, politics got in the way, as they so often do.

Almost all experiments and research were placed on hold when Mars-born colonist Navya “Not Dead” Patel discovered a lichen-like Martian life form, quickly dubbed the Mars Moss, growing deep in the canyons of Mars.[15] The excitement of finding extraterrestrial life had barely begun to settle down when the extraordinary medicinal properties of the Mars Moss were discovered after the oldest of the still living Original Seven, Dr. Katenka “Iron Foot” Mikhaylova, experimented on herself and cured her Stage-4 cancer.[16] Suddenly, Mars wasn’t just a feel-good science project for political PR anymore – it had real cash potential.[17] The Mars colonists were suddenly in the awkward position of being in the way of Earth making big profits. 

All occupants of Mars were informed they would be either be conscripted to harvest all the Mars Moss to be sent back to Earth for the profit of the corporations that had invested in the colony, or they would find themselves removed to Earth.[18] The Martians declined to cooperate, to put it mildly.

During the Grand Evacuation, as it was later called, Dr. Cortez was able to save most of her grapevines and bring them with her to the Labyrinth Base.[19] However, the Greenhouse and the Garden, along with the rest of all of the now much-expanded Mars One habitat, were destroyed in the Battle to Breathe that kicked off the Martian War for Independence, when Anne Kennedy made the radical decision to blow up the evacuated Mars One, rather than let it fall into hostile corporate hands.

It was a tense few days as people on both planets reeled at what had happened, and many wondered if that would be the worst of it. However, after a tense standoff at the location of the then only known site of the Mars Moss, the Battle of Hephaestus took place, and there would be no going back to being a colony, ever, under any terms.[20] The Colonial Period was over, and the war would drag on for five painful years, until the Martian Peace Accords were signed on Xiwangmu Station, ending hostilities and formally recognizing the newly created Republic of Mars.[21]

During the war, water rationing was the highest priority, especially after the Earth forces deliberately destroyed the Martian Arctic Pipeline in what would ultimately be a failed effort to try and break the Martian forces. President Kennedy was forced to order severe rationing, but the Martians grimly fought on for the right to live on their planet.[22] A new emergency pipeline was set up. Dr. Cortez ran the hydroponics gardens and assisted with the mushroom farm to help keep everyone fed throughout the war, but she always managed to make time for her grapevines, often giving them part of her own water ration.[23]

After the war, transporting her vines to a garden in the newly built Independence City was Dr. Cortez’s first order of business as the former colonists began the setup of what would be the capital of their new republic.[24] It wasn’t quite a vineyard, but Dr. Cortez, now Secretary of Agriculture in the new government, was able to serve fresh grapes at meetings as she planned out how their brand new country was going to take up the plow, now that they could put down the scythe.[25]

Mars was now in the era of the Early Republic, known for its boom in infrastructure, immigration, and industry. While not quite a second Wild West, (gun play would be suicide in an artificial atmosphere), there was certainly a general attitude of anything being possible. Including, finally, making the first Martian wine.

The most important factor in making the Martian agricultural industry rise was a need for water. Once the war was over, one of the largest public works projects was the Martian Global Aqueduct system.[26] The Martian canals of Schiaparelli’s imagination became a reality.[27] The main engineer on the project, Lynette Yellowhammer, oversaw the construction of an aqueduct system on a scale that would have made the Romans jealous. President Kennedy awarded Yellowhammer the prestigious Hero of the Republic medal as one of her last acts before her final term finished.[28] Water was now available on Mars in quantities never before seen during human presence. Agriculture on an industrial scale could begin. Dr. Cortez’s vision of rows and rows of grapevines were tantalizing close to coming true. But where to set up these vineyards up? The answer – Elysium. 

The town of Elysium had started out as a simple maintenance outpost along the original main water pipeline from the arctic, close to the northern base of Olympus Mons. The outpost had originally been scheduled to be built on Elysium Mons, but that area had proved unstable, so the project was moved to Olympus Mons. However, the pre-fab building materials were already 3D printed out and labeled ‘Elysium,’ and the name stuck.[29] The now-town of Elysium was booming with agricultural industry as the republic began to grow. Cereal crops were vital to Martian independence, and the first grain crops grown in the domed fields outside Elysium were being turned into loaves of bread by the time of the first anniversary of the Martian Peace Accords.[30] If people were going to experiment with vineyards anywhere, the slopes of the biggest volcano in the solar system held enticing promise.[31]

Volcanoes create fertile, mineral-rich soils, and volcanic wines have a distinctive, sought-after profile that “leans toward the savory, with herbal notes and touches of salt and brine.”[32] Olympus Mons is an extinct volcano, so no danger of pyroclastic surges, but for setting up crop fields, it lacked many of the factors taken for granted back on Earth in terms of atmosphere and climate.[33] However, with all the tempting chemical analyses coming in from the Olympic soil, Dr. Cortez and others were eager to try.

Everyone went into the project knowing it would be several years before bottles could be on shelves for sale, and, to help offset costs, the vineyard agreed to be part of the newly founded University of Elysium, the winery acting as a classroom for biology and chemistry students. Quite a few of the students, so fascinated by the almost alchemical process that turned grapes into wine, returned later after graduation as employees.[34]

But it wasn’t just scientists that were needed. Farmers with specialized training and experience in tending vineyards were a necessity. Grapes, especially if you want them to become not only wine, but specific types of wine, need careful tending every step of the way. Grapevines are particularly sensitive to soil types, moisture amounts, sunlight, temperatures, and need constant monitoring.[35] Dr. Cortez reached out to contacts she had maintained Back Earth, despite the war, and sent the call out that she needed viticulturists willing to try something completely new. Despite many in the wine industry scoffing at the idea, there were plenty of farmers willing to immigrate to help create the first vineyard of Mars.[36]  

As Dr. Cortez oversaw construction of domed vineyards on the slopes of Olympus Mons, greedy eyes Back Earth turned on the fields of Mars and saw a chance for quick profits. Land was cheap in the days of the Early Republic, especially in the flatlands far away from the safety offered by the mountains and canyons.[37]

Soon, bottles of Mars blown glass were ready for sale holding vintages of every color, from clear platinum to deepest purple. Interest was high and neither the first tasting nor sales disappointed.[38] Elysium blossomed from an industrial park to a true city, and on top of Olympus Mons, the space dock expanded rapidly as Earth got word of the goods being made on Mars, and wanted to start importing.[39] The Mars economy boomed, in small part because Dr. Cortez and people like her had proved humans could not only survive but thrive on the Red Planet.


[1]   Soffen, G. A., and C. W. Snyder, “First Viking Mission to Mars,” Science, (August, 1976) 759–766.

[2]   Matsos, H., “A High-Octane Fight: How the Mars Methane Debate is Splitting the Scientific Community,” Popular Mechanics (June, 2024) 161–168.

[3]   Jezero, Carla, “Run by Robots: Mars exploration before humans,” Astrobiology Magazine, (July, 2208) 456.

[4]   Singh, Pryia, “And Curiosity Brought It Back: a soil analysis from the samples obtained by the Curiosity rover, 2012 – 2032,” Smithsonian Journal (April, 2033) 278-291.

[5]   To learn about the fascinating history and current progress of terraforming Mars, please check out the permanent terraforming exhibit at the Museum of Science in Schiaparelli City.

[6]   FitzSimmons, Calvin, Well, I’m Here: The Autobiography of A First Step, (Dublin: Hachette Books Ireland, 2110), 156.

[7]   Perreault, M.A., “Countdown to Mars!” Time Magazine (June 10, 2042), 8–10.

[8]  Lloyd, Omar, Life Onboard the Pegasus, (San Francisco: Twain Publications, 2103), 200. For more on the history of extraterrestrial Champagne, see Megan Chantilly’s excellent history: Drinking Starlight: A History of Champagne in the 21st Century.

[9]  The vodka Dr. Mikhaylova received from Russia and the whiskey Dr. FitzSimmons received from Ireland are well documented. Any illegal stills were firmly denied by all of the Original Seven.

[10]  Cole, Jillian and Tanaka, Marie, Daily Life in Mars One, (New York: Random House, 2182), 46-52.

[11]  Ibid, 78-86.

[12]  Goodwin, Cheryl, Welcome to the Red Planet: The Early Years of Mars One, (New York: Penguin, 2099), 67-68. For more on Colonial Martian food, see Founding Food: Early Martian Cuisine by Miriam Eberbach.

[13]  Hernandez, Felecia, The Gardener of Mars: The Story of Dr. Theresa Cortez, (Los Angeles: McGraw Hill, 2098), 24-25.

[14]  Talbot-Godfry, Christopher, All Abroad! The First Family Migration to Mars, (Independence City: Red Rock Publishers, 2168), 36.

[15]  Carlingford-Psmith, Nigel, “Plant Life Discovered on Mars,” BBC News, (June 24, 2078).

[16]  McKinnon, Ace, “Drinking the Alien: Dr. Mikhaylova and the against all odds gamble,” Psychology Today, (September 23, 2078), 124-125.

[17]  Papadopoulos, Viktor, “Trillion Dollar Pay Day? The possible financial impact of the cancer cure found on Mars,” The Economist, (August 4, 2078), 9. 

[18]   Volkova, Sarah, Ares and Aphrodite: How Peace Turned to War on Mars, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2187), 77-86.

[19]   Dr. Cortez was one of the adults assigned to supervise the “kid train,” the convoy of rover-trucks mostly filled with the children and goats of Mars. She later commented that keeping kids of either species from eating her plants was the biggest victory of the war.  

[20]   O’Brian, Bridget, Battle for a Republic: The Battles of the Martian War for Independence, (Independence City: FitzSimmons University Press, 2204), 32-36.  

[21]   The Martian delegation brought a beautiful bouquet of many flowers and a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables, all grown in the Vavilov hydroponic gardens, rather rubbing it in that they were both surviving and thriving throughout the war. It is unrecorded if the Earth delegation accepted the gift.

[22]   DiNapoli, Sofia, Madame President: A New Biography of Anne Kennedy, (Schiaparelli City: Noble Books, 2211), 142-149.

[23]   Cortex, Therese, The Journal of Dr. Therese Cortez, with a new Foreword by Dr. De Soto, (Elysium: Elysium University Press, 2161), 246, 259, 299, 342. 

[24]   Serra, Juana, The First Hundred Days: The First Steps of the Republic of Mars, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2201), 156-158.  

[25]   Hernandez, The Gardener of Mars: The Story of Dr. Theresa Cortez, 148-156.

[26]   Llano, Henry, Building the Future: Architecture of the Early Martian Republic, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2160), 121.

[27]   Nelson-Carre, Marie, Water on Mars, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2186), 89-94.

[28]   Beauvais, Anik, Fly like Raven: A History of Native Americans on Mars, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2182), 46-52.

[29]   Woo, Seung-yeon, All Along the Watchtower: The Creation of the Great Arctic Pipeline, (Schiaparelli City: Noble Books, 2211), 41-43.

[30]   Mizrahi, Jakob. The Bread Planet: A New History of Baking on Mars, (New Tbilisi: Gold Quill Books, 2138), 76-78.

[31]   The Tūtū Pele Vineyard, just north of New Tbilisi, has an excellent tour of the process of using volcanic soil to produced wonderful vines. Stay for the tasting afterwards and make sure to try their Riesling.    

[32]   Robinson, W., Vines, Grapes & Wines, (12th Ed.) (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2143), 213-215.

[33]   Carr, Michael H., “Volcanism on Mars,” Journal of Geophysical Research, (1973), 4049-4062.

[34]   Arnoux, Pierre-Claude, “Elysium Fields Forever: A Study of the Vineyards of Mons Olympus,” Sommelier Journal, (January 24, 2182), 279-280.

[35]   Roberts-Byrd, Laurel, ed., The Oxford Companion to Wine (40th Ed.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2199), 389-392.

[36]   Nguyen, An, “The First Green Wave: Early Migrations of Agricultural Workers to the Republic of Mars,” Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, Volume 40, issue 4 (2201), 553–554.

[37]   Nikoladze, Marius, “Wide Red Acres: Real Estate Development During the Early Republic,” Mars Historical Society, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Dec., 2271), 395-403.

[38]   Serra, Eulalia, Science/Art: The Making of the Best Wines of the 22nd Century, (Palo Alto: Standford University Press, 2212), 548-556. 

[39]   Peppercorn, Jared, “From Red to Black: The Economic Boom of the Lloyds Administration,” Mars Historical Society, Vol. 48, No. 40 (Nov., 2168), 495-507.

~

Bio:

Kara Race-Moore studied history at Simmons College as an excuse to read about the soap opera lives of British royals. She worked in educational publishing, casting the molds for future generations’ minds, but has since moved into the more civilized world of litigation. She currently lives in Los Angeles, the land where fact and fiction tend to blur.

Philosophy Note:

The history of humans on Mars is filled with tales of exploration, discovery and war – but it is also the story of making tiny seeds grow, and coaxing the red soil to produce something green. This is the story of the viticulturists who brought wine-making to Mars, daring to keep the art going, in the face of all obstacles. For further reading, many of the books cited are real.

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