Inventions

This Device Lets Wine Lovers Try a Sample Without Popping the Cork

This Device Lets Wine Lovers Try a Sample Without Popping the Cork
Image credit: Ben Alsop
This story appears in the December 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneur

Greg Lambrecht, inventor of medical devices, serial entrepreneur and founder of Burlington, Mass.-based Coravin, maker of the Coravin 1000 Wine Access System, which uses a needle and inert gas to extract wine from a bottle without removing the cork. 

“Aha” moment

A wine collector, Lambrecht wanted to conduct side-by-side tastings of similar wines but did not want to open multiple bottles at one sitting (especially when his wife was pregnant and abstaining). “There was no way we could pull four or five corks in one evening. I wanted to change the way I experienced wine,” Lambrecht says. 

An expert in medical devices, including working in product develoment at Pfizer, Lambrecht had a familiarity with needles. He conceived a syringe-like system to draw out wine. After several years of development, he finalized the design and partnered with a manufacturer.

Bottoms up

The device uses a medical-grade non-coring needle to pass through the cork, reach into the bottle and extract wine with the help of argon, a gas that occurs naturally in air. Once the wine has been extracted and poured, the needle raises and exits the cork, which reseals. The process takes roughly 20 seconds. Each argon capsule is good for up to 15 pours of 5 ounces before it needs to be replaced. In addition to home use, the Coravin system can be applied for tastings in wine shops and wineries, and to expand and improve by-the-glass programs at restaurants and bars. 

Harvesting talent

Lambrecht is interested in inventing, not in running businesses. So he approached Nick Lazaris, the former CEO of coffeemaker giant Keurig, to recruit him to be on Coravin’s board of directors (by bringing a prototype and a bottle of Burgundy to breakfast). Lazaris liked the idea so much, he offered to serve as Coravin’s CEO. 

“The Coravin system is not just about enjoyment,” Lazaris explains. “It’s also about exploration.”

In that vein, he saw key similarities between Coravin and Keurig. Both allow people to enjoy the exact beverage they want, when they want it. Both allow multiple people to enjoy different beverages at the same time. And both are based on the razor/razor blade business model, which requires customers to continually purchase replacement parts: for Keurig, the K-Cup; for Coravin, the argon capsule.

The proof

Coravin was founded in 2011 with angel capital of nearly $1 million. The following year, the company raised $3 million more; to date it has raised $20 million, including an investment from wine expert and restaurateur Joe Bastianich. (Josh Makower, Lambrecht’s former Pfizer co-worker, invested in the idea early on and contributed so much to the initial concept that Lambrecht considers him a co-founder.) 

The device sells for $299 on Coravin’s website and at wine shops around the country. Argon capsules sell for $10.95 each, with volume discounts available.

Through the grapevine

Coravin relied on guerilla-style marketing from the start. Along with establishing an e-commerce site, the company sent Coravin systems to influencers in the wine world—restaurant sommeliers and beverage directors—and let the word spread naturally. Today the Coravin system is in use at some of the top-rated restaurants in the U.S., including Eleven Madison Park and Aquavit in New York and Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles.

When Lazaris had enough capital for a marketing budget, he targeted key media outlets and bloggers, again sending them sample Coravin systems to try. The system has earned endorsements from respected wine writers such as Robert M. Parker Jr. The company is now employing the same strategies in Europe, and Lazaris anticipates having a presence in Asian markets by the end of 2015. 

“In every way, marketing is a key aspect of what we’re about,” he says, “because it’s not just a new product, but a new product category.” 

Edition: December 2016

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