Category Archives: Wine

Wine-by-the-glass subscription service Vinebox raises $5.9 million

One SF startup wants you to get home from a day at work and polish off a bottle of wine by yourself.

Vinebox isn’t really trying to get you wasted though, these bottles are cute and tiny. The small startup is hoping that they can get consumers into the idea of buying premium quality wine-by-the-glass and they’ve convinced investors there’s something behind this concept as well.

The team has just closed a $5.9 million round of funding led by Harbinger Ventures.

Co-founders Rachel Vodofsky and Matt Dukes were both corporate lawyers several years ago with a taste for good wine, but when Dukes decided to move to France and dig deeper into his burgeoning interest in wineries, the founders set off to see how they could start a consumer business with wine discovery at its heart.

The Y Combinator-backed company began their mission with a quarterly and annual subscription service that set people up with new types of single-serve wine on a rolling basis (as well as a wonderful-sounding wine advent calendar) with the ultimate goal of exposing wine lovers to small-lot wineries they wouldn’t have otherwise come across. The 100ml bottles look more like something you would find in a laboratory than a liquor store.

A quarterly subscription is $78 per quarter and includes 9 wine samples with $15 off purchases of full-sized bottle.

A big drive of the subscription is helping members to discover new favorites. Subscription members can get discounts on full bottles if they stumble upon something that piques their interest. Vinebox says they’ve shipped one million glasses of wine so far.

The company is also now working on multi-packs of their single-serve bottles as they aim to shift consumer habits. With the Usual brand, Vinebox sells what are essentially half-bottles in 6, 12, and 24-packs. Right now  The pricing is similarly premium ( a 12-pack is $96), but Dukes says that they’re trying to reshape the attitudes toward single-serve wine.

“The biggest mold that we wanted to break when we were coming into this was the little bottles of wine you get on the airplane,” Dukes says. “It comes in the little plastic bottles and you just immediately associate with lesser quality, cheaper wine.”

Vinebox is selling a red blend from Sonoma County and a rosé from Santa Barbara under the Usual brand first, but says that they’ve gotten a lot of great customer feedback and can let that drive the direction for what types of wine they move to add next.

With this new bout of funding, the group is looking to grow its team and further scale their online distribution as they hope to get their single-serve bottles into more people’s hands.

The secret to champagne’s universal appeal is the physics of bubbles

Making champagne is fairly simple, but the physics behind its bubbly delights is surprisingly complex.
Enlarge / Making champagne is fairly simple, but the physics behind its bubbly delights is surprisingly complex.
Jon Bucklel/EMPICS/PA/Getty Images

It’s New Year’s Eve, and revelers around the globe will be breaking out the bubbly in massive quantities to usher in 2019. Why do humans love champagne and other fizzy beverages so much, when most animals turn up their noses when it’s offered? Roberto Zenit, a physicist at Mexico’s National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Javier Rodriguez-Rodriguez of the Carlos III University of Madrid in Spain, posit in the November issue of Physics Today that carbonation triggers the same pain receptors in our deep brains that are activated when we eat spicy food.

“This bubbly sensation you have when you drink a carbonated beverage basically triggers similar taste buds,” said Zenit. “Champagne is just wine; what makes it special is the carbonation. It’s a sad day when you drink flat champagne.”

He and Rodriguez-Rodriguez study the behavior of various fluids (including paints), and carbonation is a particularly fascinating topic within that discipline. When the bubbles in champagne burst, they produce droplets that release aromatic compounds believed to enhance the flavor further. (When bubbles in a carbonated beverage like beer don’t burst, the result is a nice thick head of foam.) And here’s another interesting fact: the bubbles in champagne “ring” at specific resonant frequencies, depending on their size. So it’s possible to “hear” the size distribution of bubbles as they rise to the surface in a glass of champagne.

It’s better with bubbles

Most modern fizzy drinks owe a debt to 18th century British chemist Joseph Priestley. Carbonization as a natural process was known at the time, in the form of underground springs subjected to high pressures that easily absorbed carbon dioxide, making the water “effervescent.” But Priestley invented an artificial carbonation process while living next to a brewery in Leeds. Ever the scientist, he started experimenting with the CO2 used by the brewery, and found that a bowl of water placed above a fermenting liquor became slightly acidic to the taste, just like natural mineral waters. He included his simple instructions for artificial carbonation in a 1772 treatise, Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.

Champagne actually predates Priestley by at least 150 years: the first mention of a sparkling wine dates back to 1535 in the Languedoc region of France.. The classic brand Dom Perignon gets its name from a 17th century monk who had the job of getting rid of the bubbles that developed in his abbey’s bottled wine, lest the pressure build up so much they exploded. Legend has it that upon sipping such a bubbly wine, the monk realized the bubbles might not be such a bad thing after all, declaring, “Come quickly, brothers, I am drinking stars!”

Champagne is usually made from grapes picked early in the season, when there is less sugar in the fruit and higher levels of acid. The grapes are pressed and sealed in containers to ferment, just like any other wine. CO2 is produced during fermentation, but it’s allowed to escape, because what you want at this stage is a base wine. Then there is a second fermentation, except this time, the CO2 is trapped in the bottle, dissolving into the wine. Striking just the right balance is key. You need about 6 atmospheres of pressure and 18 grams of sugar, with just 0.3 grams of yeast. Otherwise the resulting champagne will either be too flat, or too much pressure will cause the bottle to explode.

Gerard Liger-Belair studies the physics of champagne in his lab at the University of Reims.
Enlarge / Gerard Liger-Belair studies the physics of champagne in his lab at the University of Reims.
Francois Nascimben/AFPI/Getty Images

Gerard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Reims in northeastern France, has been studying the physics of champagne for years, and is the author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne. He doesn’t imbibe his experimental samples—usually by the time he’s done, the fizz is all gone anyway. But he’s gleaned numerous insights into the underlying physics over the years by subjecting champagne to laser tomography, infrared imaging, high-speed video imaging, and mathematical modeling.

For instance, the size of the bubbles plays a critical role in a really good glass of champagne. Larger bubbles enhance the release of aerosols into the air above the glass—bubbles on the order of 1.7mm across at the surface. “This result undermines the popular belief that the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne,” Liger-Belair told the Telegraph in 2016. “Small bubbles were the worst in terms of aroma release.”

Tips for the tipsy

Here’s a few more pro tips to bear in mind as you imbibe this evening. Definitely drink your champagne chilled to about 39 degrees F. This reduces how much alcohol gets carried up in each bubble (too much alcohol can overpower the champagne’s more delicate flavors). It also will keep the cork from being expelled too forcefully when it’s popped. Tilt the glass when pouring to avoid a bubbly overflow.

And it really is true that champagne is best drunk from a flute, rather than the wider “coupe” glass supposedly modeled on the breast of the 18th century French queen Marie Antoinette. Apparently the fluted shape produces more aroma-rich CO2 just under the imbiber’s nose, the better to enhance the flavor. However, Liger-Belair actually recommends using a tulip shaped wine glass, to cut down on CO2’s natural acidity.

There is one class of people who definitely should not be breaking out the bubbly this New Year’s Eve: astronauts aboard the International Space Station. According to Zenit and Rodriguez-Rodriguez, in such low gravity, the bubbles in champagne don’t bubble to the surface; they just stay right where they were formed. Granted, food scientists managed to modify Coca-Cola and Pepsi in 1985 for testing aboard the space shuttle Challenger, and the space shuttle Discovery boasted a soda dispenser in 1995.

But there would be serious digestive issues should an astronaut actually drink it on board, since in microgravity the bubbles grow to enormous sizes, resulting in a frothy beverage with a substantially larger gas-to-volume ratio than the earthbound counterpart. “Unable to escape the liquid in the digestive system, the gas would produce painful bloating of the astronauts’ stomach and intestines,” the authors write. “For relief, one could only burp, but in the microgravity environment, the burp was often wet, much like the experience of acid reflux.”

Check. No champagne or soda in space.

DOI: Physics Today, 2018. 10.1063/PT.3.4069  (About DOIs).

Buy tickets for concerts on TV with the new Comcast and Ticketmaster feature

Comcast and Ticketmaster are rolling out a feature to let Xfinity X1 customers search tour dates and begin the ticket buying process directly through their televisions — using voice search on their remotes.

The feature’s launch coincides with the first tickets going on sale for Kelly Clarkson’s new tour.

If users speak “Kelly Clarkson tour” into their voice remote, they’re sent to a dedicated Kelly Clarkson destination (which, surprisingly, isn’t a purgatory of bland pop power ballads).

To be clear, customers can’t actually complete an order using the voice tool. Instead they can get set to this destination where they will receive a prompt to buy tickets and then opt in to receive a text with a code that will enable them to buy tickets online.

If that sounds like an incredibly circuitous and unwieldy process to find tickets to concerts nearby for artists someone likes, that’s because it is.

Customers will see a promotional tile with an option to “get tickets” which will let them find a list of performances and corresponding dates at venues — powered by Ticketmaster’s API. Those customers can then opt to receive a text message with a code that they can use to complete the purchase online.

“Our team is always thinking of new ways to reach more fans by extending Ticketmaster’s open platform,” said Dan Armstrong, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Distributed Commerce for Ticketmaster in a statement. “This partnership with Comcast is a groundbreaking way to discover events and buy tickets.”

The new feature is certainly groundbreaking. It also seems extremely unnecessary.

For the Kelly Clarkson superfan, the X1 “experience” also includes the ability to stream her music through Pandora, watch music videos, and the singer’s appearances on The Voice — as well as watching clips from previous tours and see her web series A Glass of Wine.

“Fans can now go to Kelly Clarkson’s dedicated destination on X1 to enjoy her music and shop for tickets to her much-anticipated tour right on the TV via this seamless integration with Ticketmaster,” said Nancy Spears,  Vice President, Strategy & Execution at Comcast Cable, in a statement. “X1 enables us to unveil new and innovative experiences that complement and elevate content across the plaform and to add more value for customers by giving them more ways to interact with the events, entertainment, performers and brands they love.”

Valve’s “Steam Play” uses Vulkan to bring more Windows games to Linux

Valve announced today a beta of Steam Play, a new compatibility layer for Linux to provide compatibility with a wide range of Windows-only games.

We’ve been tracking Valve’s efforts to boost Linux gaming for a number of years. As of a few months ago, things seemed to have gone very quiet, with Valve removing SteamOS systems from its store. Last week, however, it became clear that something was afoot for Linux gaming.

The announcement today spells out in full what the company has developed. At its heart is a customized, modified version of the WINE Windows-on-Linux compatibility layer named Proton. Compatibility with Direct3D graphics is provided by vkd3d, an implementation of Direct3D 12 that uses Vulkan for high performance, and DXVK, a Vulkan implementation of Direct3D 11.

To improve the broader gaming experience, Valve says that fullscreen graphics, multithreading, and gamepad support have all received attention.

Once Steam Play is out of beta, developers of Windows games will be able to mark their games as being Steam Play compatible and hence offered for sale to Linux users. Valve has already tested and validated over two dozen traditional and VR games, including Doom (the original, 2016, and 2017-in-VR flavors), NieR: Automata, and Quake. While support for other games is being worked on (which users can vote for here), Steam Play testers can toggle an override switch to test any games that Valve has not internally whitelisted thus far.

GeekWire Calendar Picks: Underwater robotics contest; The future of wine; and more

Underwater robot. (MATE Photo)

How do you build an underwater robot that can locate an airplane wreckage and deliver its engine to the surface?

Some students, making up more than 70 teams, will have to answer that question at the MATE International Underwater Robotics Competition, taking place June 21 to 23 in Federal Way, Wash.

The competition challenges students from K-12 schools, community colleges and universities to build and test remotely operated vehicles — the underwater robots — in simulated real-world missions. The students must also work to manufacture, market, and sell the products.

Students qualified for the international competition by either competing in one of 30 regional competitions or by submitting video demonstrations.

This year’s competition is themed around its location: Washington. The theme, “Jet City: Aircraft, Earthquakes and Energy,” references Seattle’s reputation as an aerospace hub as well as the region’s hydroelectric power and risk of strong earthquakes.

The competition will take place at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way from June 21 to 23. It’s also being livestreamed on the MATE website. Find out more about the competition and how to watch it here.

That’s one of the highlights from our GeekWire community calendar, the spot for geek and tech events in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest. See the full calendar here, submit your event here and keep reading for more suggested events over the next few weeks.

Rising Stars: Fresh Faces

What: “Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center and the World Trade Center Seattle are proud to present “Rising Stars: Fresh Faces.” The future of wine is now with these young (aged 45 years and younger), but proven, winemakers in Washington state. Meet these winemakers, sample their wines, and purchase to support their endeavors of producing top-quality wine. Winemakers and wineries include: Jeremy Santo of Mercer Wine Estates, Jessica Munnell of Wautoma Springs, Chris Sherry of Elentone (bubbles!), Victor Palencia of la Monarcha/Palencia Wines, and more.”

When: June 18, 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Where: World Trade Center Seattle

Get involved!

Cryptocurrency, Blockchain & Initial Coin Offering Expert Fireside Chat 

What: “Curious to learn more about the real story behind so-called “Initial Coin Offerings” (ICOs) or just interested in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies generally?

Join us for a friendly fireside chat at Summit Law Group PLLC with Lewis Cohen and Angela Angelovska-Wilson, two of our nation’s leading cryptotechnology attorneys. Lewis and Angela, who recently came together to form DLx Law, have experience in the space dating back to 2008 and have worked on numerous token sales and other blockchain projects.”

When: June 21, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Where: Summit Law Group

Get involved!

What: “The CleanTech Innovation Showcase is the Northwest’s premier full day event focused on the latest cleantech innovations, ideas and initiatives. The event attracts 400+ industry leaders, investors, researchers and policymakers from across the U.S. and Canada. Throughout the day there are opportunities to hear from keynote speakers and panels on the future of the industry, tips to attracting investors, the latest technology trends and more. Twenty-four presenting companies and organizations will also share their latest technology developments, sustainability efforts and other opportunities for partnership. The 2018 Cascadia CleanTech Accelerator cohort, comprised of early-stage startups, will also share their work and opportunities for investment.”

When: June 25, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Where: Bell Harbor International Conference Center

Get involved!

What: “The Washington State Toy and Geek Fest is a fan celebration of all things toy, pop culture, and fun under one roof. It will be a weekend of family-friendly entertainment, vendors, costumes, Star Wars, gaming competitions, cosplay contests, Transformers, comic books, artists, authors, dinosaurs, military displays, robots, anime, superheroes, and lots of entertainment for kids. Over 16 celebrities have signed to appear at the event of the Summer.

An event to bring new and vintage toys, comic books, video games, movies, relevant celebrities, and anything pop culture together under one roof for a fun weekend in Pierce County.”

When: June 30, 8 a.m. – July 1, 5 p.m.

Where: Washington State Fair Events Center

Get involved!

What: “To support continued skill development, portfolio project enhancements, and networking for the greater Seattle development community, we are launching a weekly Programming Night at Code Fellows in collaboration with JS Hack Night and PuPPY. This event will be open to the following audiences: Current Code Fellows students, seeking graduates (Career Accelerator Participants), and alumni; PuPPY Group Members; JS Hack Night Members; Individuals interested in getting into coding; and Experienced developers who want to mentor and give back to the community.”

When: July 10, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Where: Code Fellows Seattle

Get involved!

How can you drink Champagne in zero-G? Winemaker builds a bottle to find out

Champagne in zero-G
A team sponsored by the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar Project samples sparkling wine poured from a specially designed bottle aboard a zero-gravity airplane flight. (Maison Mumm Champagne via YouTube)

Will future spacefliers be able to drink a bit of celebratory bubbly in zero gravity? Leave it to a French winemaker to find out, using some out-of-the-box engineering.

Past studies have shown that carbonated beverages, ranging from soda pop to beer and wine, can turn into a sticky, gassy mess in microgravity. In a Quora Q&A, NASA engineer Robert Frost described the problems that were encountered when astronauts tried to quaff carbonated cola drinks aboard the space shuttle in the 1980s and 1990s:

“Soda in space is a bit problematic.  In microgravity, the light gas bubbles won’t rush to the top of the liquid and escape. They will stay within the liquid. This means the astronaut will consume significantly more gas drinking a soda in space than one would drinking a soda on the ground.  Drinking a carbonated beverage could be like drinking a foamy slurp.”

NASA did figure out how to design a relatively mess-free Coke dispenser, which pumped fluid into a collapsible bag under conditions that were precisely controlled for pressure and temperature.

More recently, Australia’s 4 Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics set up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to support the development of a beer brewed specifically for guzzling in zero-G, plus a custom-designed beer bottle and drinking vessel.

France’s Maison Mumm Champagne is taking a similarly ambitious route. It’s been working with Octave de Gaulle and his Spade space design agency to build a zero-G wine-drinking system from the ground up.

“For the last 40 years, space travel has been shaped by engineers rather than designers. Instead of seeing zero gravity as a problem to be solved, we look at it as a design possibility,” de Gaulle explained today in a news release. “The big design challenge for Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar was actually getting the liquid out of the bottle.”

The bottle is fitted with some internal plumbing as well as a ring-shaped frame around the lip. The design channels the pressurized fluid to create white, foamy balls of wine. As shown in a YouTube video, those globs can be flipped off the mouth of the bottle — then caught in the bowl of a shallow glass, thanks to surface tension.

Weightlessness brings a whole new dimension to the wine — as Didier Mariotti, Mumm’s cellar master, discovered when the team conducted taste tests during a parabolic airplane flight on Air Zero G.

“It’s a very surprising feeling,” Mariotti said. “Because of zero gravity, the liquid instantly coats the entire inside of the mouth, magnifying the taste sensations. There’s less fizziness and more roundness and generosity, enabling the wine to express itself fully.”

Mumm’s plan is to supply the Champagne package as an option for Air Zero G’s flights starting in September, and discuss future opportunities with commercial spaceship operators such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.

Neither of those companies has talked about breaking out the champagne during spaceflight — but it’s hard to imagine Virgin Galactic’s flamboyant billionaire founder, Richard Branson, not wanting to.