barrel
Credit: UBC

Miayan Yeremi co-founded BarrelWise Technologies to uncork some age-old problems

While doing his PhD in mechanical engineering at UBC, Miayan Yeremi was taught that for the best entrepreneurial results, you must seek to solve a problem in an industry rather than create something to chase an issue that might not actually exist.

Seems simple, of course, but it was only through being paired with a group of MBA students, one of whom had experience in the alcohol business, that Yeremi and his team were able to identify a conundrum plaguing winemakers.

During the wine aging process, producers lose 5 to 10 percent of the liquid each year thanks to evaporation, he says. The resulting empty space at the top of the oak barrel can give way to bacterial growth and lower-quality wine. That means most large wineries spend resources constantly checking the quality of their product, one barrel at a time.

Thus, BarrelWise Technologies was born.

“Using our barrel management system, a winery worker can draw a quick wine sample during the topping process, perform the necessary chemical analysis right there in the cellar and adjust the wine in each barrel according to its individual results within seconds,” says Yeremi, who founded the operation with fellow students Nanette Anzola, Artem Bocharov, David Sommer and Jason Sparrow.

The company is also working on a sensor, available for commercialization next year, that will work in tandem with its topping technology to determine the amount of sulphites in each barrel. “It’s very important to winemakers because they add sulphites in the topping process to protect the wine,” Yeremi says. “So they need to know what level they’re at.”

BarrelWise has pilot projects with five wineries, including Kelowna’s Sandhill Wines, which has already mostly converted its facility to using the topping mechanism. In a study, Sandhill found that BarrelWise’s technology is 74-percent faster than traditional methods, and the company maintains that its process saves $50 annually per barrel.

But Yeremi, who won the Mitacs 2020 Outstanding Entrepreneur award last week, isn’t planning to stop there.

“We’re not just bound to thinking about the labour saving and the sulphites,” he says. “We want to be able to add more sensors to the system, and eventually we’ll be looking to open up the art of aging wine, because a lot of it is done by rule of thumb.”

Yeremi would like to add more data indicators to really boil down the science of wine: “What’s the effects of having French oak versus American oak? What are the age effects of the barrel? These [barrels] are some of the biggest line items for winemakers, and there’s not a lot of data that’s collected for the process.”