He was 12, at a family Christmas party, when his aunt turned away a glass of winebecause of the sulfites in that wine.
More than 15 years later, James Kornacki is doing something for the approximately 3 million Americanssuch as his aunt, Linda Ramirezwho are sulfite-sensitive.
Kornacki, 28, a chemist with a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, launched Ullo this summera revolutionary wine purification product that removes sulfites, restoring wine to its natural, preservative-free state.
A Kickstarter campaign launched in July for Ullo—a Chicago-based startup for a product that uses patent-pending technology that Kornacki invented while earning his Doctorate in Chemistry.
The Ullo restores wine to its natural state and is the first product that can remove sulfites from wine, he said.
"The reason this has not been done before is, it took an understanding of hardcore chemistry," said Kornacki, who is openly gay with a partner ( Brian Roote, 39 ) and lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.
Sulfites are one of the most highly regulated food additives and one of the most common food allergens, he said. Sulfites are artificial chemicals added to wine as a preservative and are no longer needed once the bottle is opened. Ullo purifies wine using a food grade polymer to selectively remove sulfites, while allowing other compounds in wine to flow through unaffected. Through Selective Sulfite Capture, sulfites are reduced to a more naturally occurring level, he said.
Bottles of wine have a warning on the back label of the product stating, Contains Sulfites.
"The levels [of sulfites in wine] are tolerated by most people," he said. "But, [sulfites also] are an issue for a lot of people too.
"You have to put sulfites in wine, even though it's really nasty and synthetically prepared, but [winemakers] have no choice. Without [sulfites], the wine turns to vinegar.
"As a chemist, I knew it was a challenge that I knew I had the capacity to solve."
It's been a three-year project for Kornacki to develop Ullo ( pronounced "oo-low" ), a name that comes from the symbols that all chemists use to describe chemistry, particularly the one for purity. "The name [choice] was a way to better reflect my story as a chemist, in a brand that really stands for purity," he said.
The first two years were for proof-of-concept, and Kornacki even had a chemistry lab set up in his kitchen. Then the next year was making it beautiful and a consumer product.
The product had to be a consumer product because sulfites only can be removed just before drinking the bottle, he said.
Kornacki said the Northwestern community was "immensely helpful" in creating and developing the product, which has been an exercise in resourcefulness, he admitted.
Kornacki is hoping to raise $100,000 through Kickstarter, to help move the product into productionand he anticipates Ullo will land on retail shelves during the first quarter of 2016.
"Do I think people in the gay community will like Ullo? Yes, because we like to drink," he said.
So how does Ullo work?
You pour the bottle into the Ullo, a stain-resistant silicone cup that is dishwasher-safe. The sulfites are captured in an encapsulated polymer filter, similar to a tea bag. Plus, there is an option to aerate wine as it flows through the Ullo.
The Ullo Kickstarter campaign is at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1831792426/ullothe-wine-purifier .