How Vinesource helps winemakers protect against counterfeiting

Integrating low-powered radio chips into packaging allows vintners—and wine aficianados—verify their bottles with a smartphone app

Startups to Watch: Stratford

Vinesource app on a smartphone


We continue our week-long spotlight on the startups of Stratford, Ont., today with Vinesource—a company that wants to help wine, spirits and beer producers put an end to counterfeit goods.

Vinesource incorporates a mobile app with near-field communications (NFC) chips to verify the authenticity of a particular bottle of wine, although it can also be used with spirits such as whisky and vodka, as well as beer.

The producer can embed an NFC chip anywhere in the bottle—in the base or label or, most likely, over the cork. A broken chip in the cork, or the absence of one altogether, can identify a particular bottle as counterfeit when scanned by Vinesource’s smartphone app.

Vinesource is the brand name of NFC Authority, the company founded by George Kleopa last year. The idea came to him as he began to get into wine a few years ago. The more he learned about it, the more he found out about the industry’s counterfeiting problem.

Estimates peg the percentage of fake international wines sold in Asia at between 60 and 80 per cent, he says, with losses mounting in the billions.

Kleopa, who has worked with other Stratford startups including software developers Conceptual Pathways and Build Circle, figured that a technological solution using inexpensive NFC chips and the smartphones that everyone has in their pockets seemed like a no-brainer.

“We make the hardware and the software so we can control them together,” he says. “We can process the entire chain.”

Kleopa also has ambitions beyond just counterfeit control. The NFC chips in bottles can also be used as marketing tools – consumers could scan them with their phones to reveal further information about the product, such as its location of origin, vintage year and ingredients.

That can arm buyers with more decision-making ability than they currently have.

“It’s about pulling up some information about a wine and knowing something about it,” he says.

NFC Authority is self-funded so far, with five full-time employees. The company is about to go to market with its first customer, Junction 56, a Stratford distillery started by Mike Heisz, a former software engineer at BlackBerry.

“He gets the technology and the whole push as far as what it can do with marketing, and how that sets it apart,” Kleopa says.

As for why the company is based in Stratford, rather than down the highway in Kitchener-Waterloo or even nearby Toronto, Kleopa says it’s a matter of culture. It’s a smaller town where individuals have more of a say in what’s going on.

“They can feel like they have a voice in Stratford and not feel like they’re part of the machine.”