WinePod, The World's First Personal Winery
By Mimi Rohr/ Gamma
Photos: Frédéric Neema/ Gamma

Making wine is one of mankind’s oldest pastimes. Now you can make wine in your living room thanks to Greg Snell’s new invention, the WinePod. The personal winemaking system allows wine lovers to produce wine at home, without the uncertainty of the traditional winemaking process. Snell’s goal is to bring the lifestyle of a winemaker to the average person – without the mess.

This cylindrical, three foot tall contraption takes the winemaker through the active phase of the fermentation process, explains Snell. The package includes a winemaking software called the WineCoach, which connects your personal computer to the WinePod via a wireless connection in order to measures Brix, pH and temperature. Plus winemakers can tap into on-line support and even send samples of the grapes during the fermentation process and sends them to ProVina, the creator of the WinePod for analysis. The end result produces four cases of wine per batch.

“It’s intimidating to make wine,” explains Snell. “Usually people’s first attempt fails.” “My goal is for people to make good wine the first time around.”

Other benefits of the WinePod are 30%-40% less cleaning. “People think that winemakers are rock stars, but winemakers joke that they are glorified dishwashers,” confesses Snell. Unclean equipment often results in the introduction of bacteria into the wine, causing spoilage.

ProVina will also provide home winemakers with frozen grapes from the Sangiacomo Vineyard in California’s Sonoma Valley. The frozen fruit actually creates more extract upon crushing and enhances the flavor of the wine.

Currently selling for $4,500 a piece, the WinePod will probably not save you a heap of money unless you’re uncorking bottles of wine in the $50 plus range, admits Snell. Instead, the goal is to indulge in the “joy of making something yourself. It feels really good.”

Snell first got the idea for the WinePod in 1999 while working in the Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry. He was working on a machine that was measuring the pH density acid of an expensive chemical. As an amateur wine aficionado, Snell made the correlation that the same principal was also the key to making good wine.

“The idea was a burning thing in the back of my head for a while,” said Snell, but he didn’t have enough time to work on it, so he quit his job. He would hook up with T.J. Rogers - a CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation and winemaker in the Santa Cruz Mountains -who was interested in developing a similar technology for his vineyard.

Snell also began collaborating with Dr. Vladimir Firer, a computer engineer originally from the Ukraine, whom Snell describes “as having an entrepreneurial zeal”. Firer created the software that accompanies the WinePod, as well as the on-line support operation located in the Ukraine.

After several attempts the WinePod was ready for the public in February 2006. Unsure of how big the market was for his product, Snell turned to a blogger, who wrote a story about the WinePod on February 10, 2006. The response was overwhelming in the first 24 hours, and Snell realized that he was onto something. As a result, the company was able to obtain venture capital which would help launch the WinePod into production.

Today, there are about 125 WinePods in U.S. homes. Although the parts are now mechanically manufactured, the actual machines are still assembled by hand in the company’s San Jose headquarters.

The future looks bright. The company is pursuing multiple goals: to further automate the production of the WinePod and to produce a model with a better price-point in order to make the WinePod accessible to a more diverse group of customers. Distribution of the WinePod to Europe should commence in 2009.

Mimi Rohr © 2008