Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Blend Your Own Wine in Idaho

The Idaho Statesman carries an article about Tom Falash, who opened a wine store in Boise, Idaho, USA. This is not a regular wine store. It lets customers make their own wine for less than US$10 per bottle.

The process works as follows:

Customers can taste wines before choosing which one to make. Falash takes a customer through the process of adding required ingredients to the grape juice, including yeast to start fermentation and oak shavings to add oak flavor in some wines.

Once completed, the wine is transferred to a large glass carafe that holds about six gallons. Fermenting creates the alcohol. A valve attached to the mouth of the carafe allows gas to escape during fermentation.

During fermentation, the customer’s wine is stored on metal shelves in a temperature-controlled storeroom. The carafe is labeled to note the type of wine and its date.

After two months, the customer is invited back to bottle the wine, cork it and finish it with a custom label. Once bottled, the wine must rest from four to six months more before it’s ready to drink.

Wine-making by its nature is a drawn out process – so it’s never going to be a five minute job, no matter how much technology you use. There have been some ‘personalized wine’ services in the past, but these have just involved personalizing the label on an off-the-shelf bottle. Involving end-customers in the making process is an entirely different type of customization.

Home wine making is nothing new, but the results were always fairly unpredictable. This type of service combines offline customization by the customer with the expert knowledge of the professional winemaker. The Idaho Statesman article says that there are only about 25 stores of this type in the U.S., but more than 300 in Canada, where Tom Falash discovered the idea. His business is called, appropriately, Wine Corkers.

I’ve always been reluctant to write about personalized alcohol products as I don’t wish to come across as glorifying alcohol consumption. In this case, however, it’s fair to say that the time taken to produce a customized wine will remove any ideas about downing it all in one go. The Wine Corkers website homepage includes a prominent link to the Century Council, a U.S. not-for-profit organization (which is funded by the alcoholic beverages industry) dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.

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