Uncorking a Wine Breakthrough

Tim Keller
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Tim Keller

Location: Napa

Impact: Helping winemakers make better wine

UC Davis was the perfect environment for Tim Keller to develop a revolutionary screwcap for wine bottles.

Keller serves as CEO and co-founder of VinPerfect, which produces a screwcap with a patent-pending liner that allows winemakers to control how much oxygen enters a wine bottle over time. The technology is an improvement over corks and conventional screwcaps, which can ruin the wine.

“By controlling the oxygen going into the bottle, we don't just help winemakers avoid defects, we actually help them make better wine,” Keller said.

UC Davis’ global leadership in winemaking and the campus’s entrepreneurship environment provided the technical background and support for Keller to transform his idea into a viable product for the marketplace.

“There’s no better place,” he said.

Keller, who has a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis, worked as a winemaker in Sonoma and Napa counties for more than a decade. He earned an MBA at the Graduate School of Management in 2008. The screwcap prototype, developed while he was an MBA student, captured the top spot in the school’s 2008 Big Bang! Business Competition, which helps entrepreneurs establish successful businesses.

Headquartered in Napa, VinPerfect sold more than 4 million SmartCaps in 2013, with a goal of 12 million units in 2014. Keller’s connections from the management school and the Big Bang! were critical to VinPerfect’s growth. That network led to key advisers, such as wine industry economist Robert Smiley, and investors, such as the Sacramento Angels. Smiley, an emeritus professor and former dean of the management school, serves on VinPerfect’s board.