Not long ago, I wrote about being done with writing about the Vacu-vin wine preservation gizmo. Then, a couple of nights ago, I caught someone trying to get some funding for his wine preservation gizmo from “The Sharks” on ABC television’s program that marries inventors and investors.
Inventor Eric Corti was trying to secure some capital, possibly just some free advertising, for his Wine Balloon from TVs Sharks.
Back in April, last year, Martin left a comment to my “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin” piece:

Thanks John, good read.

I too have purchased a Vacu Vin and have had so so results. Cnet.com had an article this month under their “gadgets” section about a thing called a Wine Balloon. So for a few bucks I ordered one as the idea is similar to the floating disk. The balloon sealed the bottle for three days. When I went back for a glass I still tasted subtleties of the wine with no apparent residual effect from the balloon, it worked pretty well. Was wondering if you’ve heard or tried it?

To which I replied:
Funny Martin, but I have always thought that a balloon was the ideal wine preservation concept, but was concerned that a chemical, rubber, or plastic aroma or flavor might be imparted to the wine. It is interesting to see that someone is using the idea to seeming good effect. Thanks for sharing the news. -John
Okay, I’m back on a topic I said I was done with, but for wine geeks, the science of wine preservation is as big a deal as whether Kirk or Picard is the better Star Fleet Captain is to Trekkies – or Trekkers for those that care.
Eric was seeking $40,000 for a 30% stake in his business. One Shark, Kevin, offered Eric $40,000 for 30% if the product was pitched to Vacu-vin for a royalty deal. Another shark, Lori, offered to buy him out completely for $500,000; Mark Cuban joined Lori raising the offer to $600,000 but required an instant yes. Eric countered, asking for $600,000 and a 3% royalty. The Sharks played hardball, and the offer dropped back to $500,000 and then $400,000 before Eric seemed to accept that diminished offer.
Today, on Eric’s website blog, I read:

We’re still in control of the company. Cooler heads prevailed. Thanks for your comments and support of the Wine Balloon

We are still in touch with the Sharks. You never know what will happen down the road.

and

I was a total mad-house in there as you sure witnessed.
We have NOT sold the company and cooler heads prevailed. Please don’t boycott the Wine Balloon. We still own it.
Were in contact with the Sharks, and that was the ultimate goal. If you bail and walk, you have zero contact with them later on.

I have written that the Vacu-vin sucks (literally and figuratively), and although I use Nitrogen at work, I thought a balloon to be a great wine preservation gizmo for home use if the balloon didn’t impart weird rubbery chemical off notes to the wine.

According to the Wine Balloon’s FAQ page, “The balloon is manufactured in the United States of a Natural Rubber Latex (biobased elastomer) material.  All ingredients in the balloon meet U.S. FDA Standards for food contact – (FDA 177.26),” and, “Wine Balloon will not alter the taste of your wine.”

The product is simplicity itself. After opening a wine bottle and pouring a glass or two, a washable balloon at one end of a tube is inserted into the wine bottle until it contacts the surface of the remaining wine, a grape cluster shaped squeeze pump on the other end of the tube is squeezed inflating the balloon and the remaining wine is effectively protected from the harmful effects of oxidation without the stripping away of aroma that comes with other more famous wine preservation gizmos.

Of greater note, this is the first wine preservation gizmo that allows a user the opportunity to see that the product is functioning. Vacuum pumps leave invisible Oxygen while pressurized cans pump invisible Nitrogen into the bottle. Where faith was required in the past while much has been written about the lack of efficacy some of these wine preservation systems offer, the Wine Balloon is remarkable for leaving no question as to whether it works or not.

At $22, with additional replacement balloons available affordably, the Wine Balloon is a solid, easily recommendable product for home use by many wine drinkers.

I know of many people who live alone, want just one or two glasses, can open a bottle now and thanks to the Wine Balloon will be able to come back to the bottle days later and finish the bottle without a loss of aroma or flavor.

In fairness, the product needs a slight modification to make it more useful in my house, or any home where multiple bottles are open at the same time. With Wine Balloon, you need one system for each bottle open, and at $22 per unit, that would run over $100 in Wine Balloons in constant use at my house. That is why I use Nitrogen both at work with 12 bottles of wine open and home where I have 6 bottles open.

I’m not really who this gizmo was made for, but I am happy to point friends at it, and more happy that Eric appears to have not taken the Sharks money but instead taken advantage of the opportunity to market his product directly to millions of viewers.

Good luck Eric and Wine Balloon.

About a decade ago, there was a very active ABC movement among the wine community. ABC stands for Anything But Chardonnay.

The country was awash in rivers of Chardonnay, it was being ordered in bars and restaurants by the glass and bottle in amazing volumes.

The Chardonnay grape produces a juice that, when fermented, yields wine notes of crisp green apple and possible tropical notes like pineapple if cold fermented. Wine made from Chardonnay can seem sour in its tartness.

A secondary fermentation, malolactic fermentation, can transform malic acid notes of tart green apple to lactic acid notes of butter and cream.

Another winemaking method of changing Chardonnay’s flavors is to age the wine in oak barrels instead of holding the juice in stainless steel tanks. The oak barrel can impart notes of oak, toast, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and vanilla on the Chardonnay. Additional, more intense oak flavors are achieved when the Chardonnay is fermented, not just aged, in oak.

I think Kendall-Jackson is largely responsible for the enormous increase in Chardonnay’s popularity.

Kendall-Jackson sourced Chardonnay grapes from all over California, and ran all of the juice through malolactic and held the wine in oak barrels. The result was a buttery wine of oak, toast, cream and vanilla. Kendall-Jackson sold so much wine that other wineries were making Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay through custom crush relationships, as much as 250,000 cases of a label at a time.

People came to expect all Chardonnays to taste of butter, toast, cream, and vanilla.  Soon, other wineries were hiding the varietal character of Chardonnay, the unique fruit notes, by increasing their use of malolactic fermentation and oak aging.

There was a time when all Chardonnays were boringly the same. Bottles of oak and butter, the fruit nearly gone.

It was said that if you put a rock through malolactic fermentation, held it in oak, and slapped a Kendall-Jackson label on it, it would taste of oak, toast, cream, and vanilla, with very little fruit, and someone would put it in their mouth to find out.

Thus was born the ABC crowd. Anything But Chardonnay, give me something that tastes like grape, varietally correct, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, anything still held in stainless, anything with fruit notes please.

If you have seen the incredible wine movie Sideways, you heard Miles, the main character, pronounce, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot.”

Like Chardonnay, Merlot is often boring, bland, uninteresting, yet easy to drink with very little varietal character getting in the way. Miles could just as easily have declared, “I am not drinking any fucking Chardonnay,” but it wouldn’t make much sense for Miles to visit Santa Barbara, a big grower of Chardonnay, and complain about the varietal.

Does this mean that I never drink Chardonnay, or that I recommend that you don’t?

No.

The great news is that in the last decade, wineries have decided that malolactic fermentation and oak aging are winemaker tools, but they don’t have to be used fully, or at all, with every Chardonnay.

Chardonnay, which was nearly uniformly boring as everyone chased Kendall-Jackson’s style because of Kendal-Jackson’s sales, is now an exciting wine to taste.

There are now wineries choosing to forego malolactic fermentation with their Chardonnay, and have clear tart green apple notes in their releases. Other wineries are choosing to put only a portion of their Chardonnay juice through malolactic and blending it with juice that hasn’t been put through this secondary fermentation.

Similarly, some wineries are holding their fruit in stainless steel tanks instead of oak barrels and allowing the fruit free rein. Other wineries hold some of their juice in stainless and some in oak and blend the juices to have notes of fruit and oak.

With blends possible ranging from no malolactic or oak to 100% malolactic and oak, the possible winemaking choices are nearly infinite. Winemakers are using these tools in different percentages and making wines that are unique, even exciting.

Imagine, as an example, visiting a tasting room and finding a Chardonnay where one third of the juice was fermented in oak, two thirds in stainless. Of the two thirds fermented in stainless; one third was aged in new french oak, one third was held in new american oak, one sixth in one year old American oak, and the remaining sixth was aged in stainless. Sixty percent of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation. Complex. Unique.

Chardonnay, once boring, predictable, is now a fun wine to taste. With winemakers using the tools I’ve talked about, and many others, differently, the finished wine is often a surprise. To me that makes wine tasting Chardonnays much more enjoyable.

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