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The Wine Aging Device...A Gag Gift Gone Crazy

A Christmas Gag Gift grew into a controversy and escalated into a quest.  Our story begins with the musing of a PhD Electrical Engineer, bored with his Linear Accelerator.  While working at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in Berkley, CA, Dr. Andrew Benwell got bored and thought that there must be a way to use high energy particles to artificially age wine.  He did a little research and found a not very useful patent that used high voltage, oscillating electric fields to induce wine aging.  He contacted his close chemist buddy, Stephen Stites in Wentzville, MO, to kick around ideas.  It didn’t take them long to decide to contact Stephen’s crazy inventor father Ron Stites in Denver, CO.  After talking about the pros and cons of the idea (mostly cons), the idea went kind of dormant until Christmas, 2013.

A little background on a typical Stites Christmas.  In the Stites clan, the kids have for a long time drawn names and then committed to making their lucky sibling something unique (though rarely practical).  Until 2013, the coup de grâce had been a 30 lb lunch box that Dan (the oldest) had made Erik (the youngest) out of 1/8” welded steel plate.  In 2013, Erik (a doctor and medical researcher in nephrology) drew Dan’s name.  The game was on.

Dr. Erik Stites now consulted with his brother-in-law Dr. David Gill on how to best Dan’s infamous record.  They determined that a wine aging device would be the perfect idea.  They had even run across plans to accomplish this.  Yes, you guessed it, the same plans that Andrew and Stephen had run across.  The only challenge was how to build this and not exceed the $25 limit.  Naturally, Erik decided to consult crazy inventor dad.

Of course, the high voltage, radio frequency oscillator system not only wouldn’t work, it would cost closer to $25,000 than $25.  Nevertheless, time was running out.  Christmas was only a few weeks away.  Something had to be done.  Ron had been thinking about this a long time and thought that maybe, just maybe, electrons on the surface of an inert electrode might be energetic enough to do something to the tannins.  So, instead of building a linear accelerator to create high energy particles or a high voltage radio frequency oscillator, more or less in desperation a battery powered set of electrodes was built.  Most of the parts were surplus from Ron’s stash of miscellaneous electronic parts.  The electrodes themselves were carbon gouging electrodes donated by a local welding shop.  The most costly item was the very cool double pole, double throw “frankenstein” switch purchased from Radio Shack.  Within 2 days the first prototype was constructed. 

This first prototype was turned over to Erik and David with a stern warning that the materials of construction were not FDA grade and that the device was more of a gag gift than a serious invention.  Undeterred, these pioneers of scientific investigation spent most of that day testing the device with a variety of wines.  Later that evening they reported to Ron that the device worked very well at mellowing red wine.  Although they seemed unimpaired, their “findings” after a full day of “testing” could not be entirely relied upon.  Nevertheless, this was the first indication that this really was a “breakthrough”.

The final indication that this really was something came a few days later.  Ron and his wife Barb had been invited to Erik and Lisa’s (Erik’s wife) for Christmas Dinner.  David was also going to be there along with his (and Lisa’s) parents, Mike and Ellen Gill.  Now Mike is no one to fool around with when it comes to wine.  He is something of a serious connoisseur.  He is also a corporate attorney who can more than hold his own in any debate.  When Ron and Barb showed up at Erik and Lisa’s, Mike and David were already in a heated debate over the wine ager.  Mike was arguing that it couldn’t possibly work and that David and Erik were just tipsy during the “testing.”  This was not well received by David who was aggressively defending his “findings.”   They both turned to Erik with the look of, “Well....?”  Erik, a man of few words, simply went to the pile of out-going mail and proceeded to unwrap Dan’s Christmas present that had not been mailed yet.  He opened a bottle of red wine, poured a glass and stuck the wine ager on the remainder in the bottle.  All he said was, “Wait fifteen minutes and decide for yourself.”

Well, that was a long fifteen minutes.  Mike wanted to pull out a sample sooner than fifteen minutes, but Erik would have no part of it.  After fifteen minutes Mike tasted the treated and untreated wine.  After a pause that seemed an eternity, he turned to Ron and said, “You need to patent this.”

The provisional patent was filed on December 31, 2013.  

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