Wine bottle closure wins first place in Big Bang! competition

Tim Keller believes his invention will kill the cork for good.

Tim Keller believes his invention will kill the cork for good.

His wine bottle-cap liner, designed to regulate the amount of air allowed into the bottle, won first place at the annual Big Bang! Business Plan Competition put on by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

Keller, a Master of Business Administration student who has been a winemaker for 10 years, designed the liner because he said the current methods to seal wine bottles are not up to par.

“If we prove that this works, there will be no reason to use a cork screw ever again,” said Keller, a UC Davis viticulture and enology alumnus. “I will be the guy who killed the cork.”

Keller’s design is a modification of screw-on cap liners. His liner sits under the screw cap, controlling the amount of oxygen that will be allowed to enter.

“Our liner will let a specific amount of oxygen into the wine bottle according to what the wine maker wants,” Keller said.

“The liner is made out of multiple layers of metal, such as aluminum or tin. [The composition is] variable depending on what wine we are trying to make a liner for,” he said, adding that cabernet needs a high amount of oxygen, while pinot noir needs less.

Wines in general need a specific amount of oxygen. If too little is let in, reduction can occur, and the wine can start smelling like burnt rubber or rotten eggs, Keller said. If too much is let in, the wine will be oxidized.

“As wines age, they consume oxygen. [The liner] will give wine makers control on how their wine ages in the bottle, something that they’ve never had before,” he said.

Screw caps generally let in too much oxygen, and wooden corks don’t always let in enough, Keller said.

Wooden corks have other problems. Though they let in less oxygen than screw caps, they are also less reliable, Keller said.

Also, a fungus that can grow inside the pores of a cork can create a chemical called TCA.

“This chemical ruins about one in 20 bottles of wine,” Keller said.

“Our closure has the oxygen permeability characteristic of cork, and the reliability of a screw cap,” Keller said.

Keller, the originator of the idea, worked with a team to prepare the idea for the competition. Keller and the other team members, Kevin Chartrand, a UC Davis MBA candidate and Diana Mejia, a food engineering graduate student, took home $15,000 as the winning team and will go on to compete in today’s Draper Fisher Jurvetson Venture Challenge in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Big Bang! competition was founded in 2000 by MBA students to reward innovation at UC Davis.

Anyone affiliated with UC Davis (students, alumni, staff) can enter, said Liz Collett, UC Davis MBA student and co-chair of the contest in an e-mail interview. Each team must have at least one valid UC Davis relationship, she said.

“This year’s competition reached the level of success that students, area financiers and sponsors eight years ago envisioned,” said Tim Akin, marketing director of the graduate school of management in an e-mail interview.

“[The contest creates an] entrepreneurial culture that has produced a field of entries and finalist teams in which business students and campus researchers have collaborated on viable business plans designed to push promising technologies off the lab bench and into the market,” he said.

The Big Bang! competition has awarded a total of $143,000 to 24 student projects since the contest started eight years ago.

 

ANNA OPALKA can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.