The patented device was born out of IP from Plant & Food Research that was given to students from the University of Auckland's Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship course. Those students went on to win the University's $100,000 entrepreneurship challenge before setting up shop at The Icehouse.
It worked with Callaghan Innovation and the Product Accelerator Group to bring to market a portable, affordable, highly effective micro-oxygenation system that is manufactured in New Zealand and currently generating export revenues from six countries.
“Oxygen is the lifeblood of wine – too much or too little at certain points in the production of wine can cause unintended and often irreversible consequences,” says co-founder and managing director, Jonathan Boswell.
“The traditional way of providing wine with roughly the right amount of oxygen is to age it in oak barrels, where the permeability of the oak staves allow oxygen to transfer into the wine.”
The challenge the wine industry faces is that 65 percent of wine sells for less than $30 a bottle – the price point below which it is not economical to age wine in a barrel. Consequently, only around 10 percent of all wine that is produced ever sees the inside of a barrel. Winemakers selling their product for under $30 find themselves looking for alternative ways to get the best possible expression of their grapes in front of consumers.
That’s where Wine Grenade comes in.
The technology replicates the same oxygen transfer process that oak barrels deliver, but for wines aged in stainless steel tanks. When used alongside oak alternatives (such as chips or staves) it recreates traditional aging techniques but with little of the associated cost or hassle.
And there’s a market waiting: existing oxygen management systems generally require significant upfront capital investment and use a less-than-ideal method of oxygen transfer not dissimilar to a home aquarium. The founders identified a gap in the market for a maturation solution that was designed to meet the needs of small-to-medium wineries looking for a system which can deliver oxygen in a process similar to that which happens in barrel, with additional IoT functionality added over the top.
“Aside from the device itself being designed entirely from the ground-up with customer usability in mind, we’ve also differentiated our offering in two ways – each targeted toward the small-to-medium producer,” says Boswell.
“Wine Grenade leverages a consumables-based business model, meaning winemakers are able to minimise the CAPEX required access the technology and the overall cost of our product is almost entirely aligned with how much our customers value the results it delivers.”
“The second innovative approach was to leverage developments in IoT infrastructure to make each device cloud-enabled. In doing so, we have developed a platform that can be developed further in the future by including an increasing number of more sophisticated sensors – providing greater insight to the winemakers who are least likely to have in-house lab capabilities.”
In its entirety, the R&D programme involved researchers from PFR, the University of Auckland, a mechanical engineering consultancy, electrical engineering consultancy, machinists, contract manufacturers, and the support of numerous suppliers, every single one of whom are New Zealand-based.
The result is a product that is now being used to mature 1,000,000 bottles of wine and spirits at any given time.
“We’re firm believers in the quality and extent of academic research that takes place in New Zealand,” says Boswell.
“We also believe that in order for New Zealand to succeed on the global stage, that research needs to find its way out of the universities and research institutes and into products that are capable of generating export revenues for this country. Wine Grenade is a great example of how this can happen, and the flow-on effects for a multitude of small businesses and engineering, design and marketing professionals within the ecosystem.”
“Every single day has provided new insight into what it takes to bring a new research-driven product to market. However, the most important take-out that we’ve had from our experience to date has been the importance of listening to customers and ensuring that you are bringing them along the product design journey.”
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