David Meadows tries all kinds of wines.
He typically drinks one or two glasses a day, usually with his evening meal. He jokes that his wine collection is now part of his lab supplies, an "R&D expense" of sorts for his Grapevine startup.
Meadows is CEO and co-founder of PureWine, the company behind a wand-shaped filter that removes histamines and sulfites from wine. His team says these ingredients can cause unfavorable reactions for some people, such as headaches and other hangover-like symptoms.
About 10 years ago, Meadows gave up drinking wine because of what he called inconsistent side effects – headaches, nasal congestion and sometimes losing his voice.
"I knew it wasn't the alcohol because sometimes it would just happen with just half a glass of wine," he said. "It wasn't the amount. I knew it wasn't over-consumption."
He wasn't alone. PureWine's research says up to 75 percent of adult consumers may experience headaches, flushed skin or nasal congestion after drinking wine.
"I just said, 'Man, this is not worth it.' Feeling bad the next day is not worth it," Meadows said.
So he gave it up. But about five years ago, he and his son Derek started thinking about a way to reduce or eliminate the sulfite preservatives produced during the fermentation process.
Their goal was to develop a system to deliver what they called "pure wine." And after about a year of research, they felt they'd cracked the code.
'BRITA FILTER FOR WINE'
Their first prototype was a teabag-like pouch filled with resin to absorb the compounds in a process similar to water purification. They took that to Health Wildcatters, a Dallas-based health care startup accelerator, in summer 2014. By the next summer, they'd raised $400,000 and developed a wand concept that had a filter to absorb the chemical compounds when it made contact with them in the drink.
"We basically are a Brita filter for wine," Meadows said of his company. "We remove those ingredients that don't need to be in that wine."
Stirring and soaking the plastic wand in wine for four minutes removes two-thirds of the histamines and sulfites, according to PureWine.
Meadows said he considers PureWine a technology company, not a product company, because the platform crosses multiple beverages, including champagne and beer.
The company launched sales of its wand online in September, and retail stores started picking up the product in December. A pack of three wands retails for $9.99, an eight-pack for $19.99 and a 24-pack for $54.99. Sellers include Total Wine and More, H-E-B Grocery, Spec's Liquors and various independent boutiques.
In March, PureWine's wand was added to online giant Amazon.com.
In May, Meadows filed a form with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating that he and his team are looking to raise $3 million.
Now they've developed a plastic one-bottle-use spout that Meadows said will launch in September. It fits in the bottle like a cork and filters wine before it's poured into a glass. The filtration process takes about 10 seconds from when the wine is poured to when it hits the glass.
Jeryn Laengrich was one of the PureWine's early-stage wand testers. Her employer, Cariloop, had been part of the Health Wildcatters program the previous year, and her boss had met Meadows during a mentoring session there.
She said she was eager to try the product because of side effects she had experienced from drinking red wine, and she hated having to dilute it with sparkling water.
"If I drank more than half a glass of red wine, I would get a horrible migraine right over my eyes, and then I would get congested," Laengrich said. Her sinuses would clog up, and if she lay down, it would get worse as the night went on.
She said the wand eliminated those problems without changing her drink's flavor.
"I was able to drink two glasses of red wine and not develop a headache, which I hadn't been able to do in a long time, if ever," she said.
Not everyone is sold on the wand's powers.
Matthew Feldman, a private-practice allergist at the Dallas Allergy and Asthma Center, said more public scientific research would be required to validate the company's online claims, including that its product prevents "wine allergies by selectively targeting" histamines and sulfites.
"What they're claiming is that some of the side effects and intolerances to wine may be improved by removing histamines and sulfites, but that's technically not an allergy," Feldman said.
In allergic reactions to wine, the body's immune system is responding to lipid-transfer proteins, said Feldman, who is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He said removing histamines and sulfites would not prevent an allergic reaction because those compounds are not what cause it.
"There's not enough data to say that what they're claiming to remove is related to those symptoms, and even if they are, there's a lot of other stuff in wine that could cause those symptoms," Feldman said. "If they think they're improving intolerance symptoms, it would be helpful to have peer-reviewed data."
Meadows said that his product is intended to help people who may have an intolerance or sensitivity to wine, and that his company uses "allergy" or "pseudo-allergy" to communicate with consumers.
PureWine's test studies are not publicly available, though Meadows said he and his son are looking to have them published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.