You may not know his name, but Jordan Kivelstadt wants to change the way you drink wine.

Kivelstadt, 31, is CEO of the country's largest wine-kegging business, Free Flow Wines. An engineer by training, Kivelstadt launched the Sonoma company in 2009 with two clients and 80 kegs in chairman Dan Donahoe's garage. Now, they have 13 employees and provide kegging services for seven of the world's top 10 grossing wine companies, including Gallo and Constellation Brands.

Kivelstadt has two goals. The first is to make wine fun again. "The whole snooty thing isn't working for most Americans," he says. "I want wine to be fun like craft beer is."

Free Flow Wines CEO Jordan Kivelstadt and chairman Dan Donahoe started their wine kegging business in Donahoe’s garage back in 2009. Today, they are
Free Flow Wines CEO Jordan Kivelstadt and chairman Dan Donahoe started their wine kegging business in Donahoe's garage back in 2009. Today, they are the largest wine kegging business in the United States. (Mary Steinbacher)

He also wants to save the planet. He's off to a good start. Each Free Flow keg lasts 30 years, the equivalent of taking a car off the road for almost two and a half years, according to a life cycle study by UC Berkeley consultants. Each keg eliminates 26 bottles from our landfills along with their corks, labels, foils and cardboard shipping boxes. By partnering with Free Flow Wines, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas saves four tons of trash per year.

But it's not Big Wine that is going to bring Kivelstadt closer to his dream. It is small, boutique winery clients. "When someone sees an Au Bon Climat pinot noir on tap, it reinforces to everybody that kegging is not jug wine," says Kivelstadt, one of 11 young wine leaders featured in Chelsea Prince's new book, "Rock and Vine: Next Generation Changemakers in America's Wine Industry" (Prince; $28.95). "This is about fine wine."


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And drinking them this way is not only better for the planet, it's better for the wine, he says. Winemakers know this. They keep their fine wines in the same stainless steel kegs to be used as "topping wine" -- to top off wines as they age in and evaporate from porous oak barrels. The wines in the kegs never evaporate and stay fresh indefinitely, as the winemaker uses inert gases to preserve the wine.

Kegging also eliminates the possibility of cork taint while a pressurized closure mechanism helps prevents oxygen from entering the wine, keeping it fresh for six weeks from the day it is tapped. Temperature is equally critical. So in 2011, Free Flow hired Micro Matic to introduce a dual-zone kegerator that would house red and white wines side by side at their optimal temperatures. It is based on 30 prototypes that Kivelstadt built by hand.

"I went into full engineer mode for eight weeks," recalls Kivelstadt, whose experiments included putting a heater inside a refrigerator. Micro Matic's version is now used in hundreds of bars and restaurants.

Despite his technical prowess, Kivelstadt says he didn't start Free Flow to build equipment (or become the next Mark Zuckerberg, though his young startup has raised $3 million in three rounds of angel-backed funding). He's in the business of kegging logistics. Here's how it works: When a restaurant returns an empty keg, Free Flow is responsible for cleaning, storing, filling, and redistributing it. They fill the kegs with wines from stainless steel tanks that have been supplied by their winery clients. Before the kegs are shipped off, Free Flow also adjusts the sulfur and pH levels of the wines to make sure they are at their best.

"That's the unromantic part of the business," he says.

It's not the only one. When I track down Kivelstadt for a chat, he's in Tallahassee, Fla., working with the state Legislature to overturn an 80-year-old law, which inadvertently prevents wine from being served from a tap.

"This is what you get for being innovative," he says, frustrated. "You have to be willing to debate with lawmakers."

He's used to wearing multiple hats: Kivelstadt is a winemaker, too, making syrah and other Rhone-style wines from his parents' Sonoma vineyard under the label Qualia.

Eventually, Kivelstadt would like to devote himself to Qualia full time, while retaining a seat on the board of Free Flow. But not until he meets those goals.

"My personal one is to take 10 million bottles out of United States landfills every year," he says. "Currently, we're at over 1 million. I can get there."

Contact Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/swirlgirl_jy.

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