Finland’s WineMill is kind of working in the same field as Elon Musk.
“He builds rockets that need to function in an oxygen-free environment,” Sami Gauffin, the founder of WineMill, explains laughingly. “We treat wine in a similar setting by removing the oxygen that impacts the wine.”
WineMill is the first-in-the-world solution for reducing the share of alcohol in bottled wine by removing ethanol molecules by producing a diminution of pressure, simultaneously cutting down calories and sulphites, as well as the drink’s intoxicating effect. None of this compromises the flavour, Gauffin assures; if anything, lowering the level of alcohol gives more room for the character of the wine.
“Alcohol sometimes masks the aromas of wine, and having less of it can bring the hidden flavours to life,” he says.
Gauffin should know. For over 10 years, he has been studying wines, their science and their functionalities almost religiously, and the idea of WineMill is his brainchild.
All started with a bad taste
Everything started in 2009, when Gauffin cut out a newspaper article written about a Finn who had just completed his master’s of wine degree. His final project had been about alcohol-free wines, which baffled Gauffin, whose memories of zero-alcohol wines weren’t very flattering.
“I went to buy alcohol-free wines thinking they had improved significantly since the last time I tried them. It turned out they really hadn’t.”
However, the thought just wouldn’t leave him alone. He noticed that the percentage of alcohol in wines was climbing higher and higher, but people seemed to be increasingly keen to find lower-alcohol options. As an entrepreneur in a family business importing speciality foods to Finland, Gauffin started to look for wines with lower alcohol content that he could add to his company’s offering only to find out that regulations prevent producers from altering the wine when it’s ready. Thus, none seemed to exist.
“I was wondering why there’s beer for every possible percentage, but no wine,” he tells. “I learnt that for various reasons, ranging from climate change, boosting the sugar content of grapes to the new industrial wine yeasts, as well as rules and regulations, it’s really just a man-made problem.”
Then it struck him. What if restaurants and consumers themselves were able to reduce the share of alcohol just as the wine was about to be enjoyed? Surely there’s no rule that could stop them from tampering with it, right?
“I’m the sort of person who, if I get excited about something, I find out everything there is to it,” Gauffin adds. And he did, indeed.
Say no to excessive alcohol
After plenty of research, studying, testing and simply believing in the idea, Gauffin contacted Aalto University. Together with a team of students, he created the first prototype of what was to become WineMill. Although loud, big and slow, it worked.
Fast-forward various stages of the process, funding from Business Finland and some expert help in engineering, now both the machine and the method are patented in Finland and have patents pending elsewhere. Nude, a restaurant in Helsinki, is already able to serve its customers wine that has been ‘milled’ to about two-thirds of its original alcohol content, and, according to Gauffin, the plan is to spread block by block, restaurant by restaurant, city by city and, eventually, continent by continent. WineMill has already received plentiful interest from, for example, China.
As soon as the B2B market has been covered, WineMill also aims to take over people’s kitchens similarly to high-quality espresso machines. The consumer version of WineMill will enable people to make the wines they drink at home healthier and, in many cases, tastier.
WineMill’s vision is to take out excess alcohol for the sake of health and flavour.
“One of WineMill’s investors said that now people think we’re crazy because we mill wine, but in five years they’ll think those who don’t are the crazy ones,” Gauffin explains. “It just doesn’t make sense to add extra ethanol to your body, when your wine is just as good or even better without it.”
Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is part of Business Finland.