When entrepreneur and inventor Greg Lambrecht introduced the world to the Coravin, a device he perfected to achieve his goal of being able to drink a glass of wine without pulling the cork from a bottle, the wine world didn’t quite know what to think of it.
But then people actually started using this little device with its hollow needle and inert gas, and realized just how much of a game changer it actually was. In the two years since its release, Coravin has completely transformed the wine world in the way few products ever have. My own review of the device shortly after its release outlines many of its impacts.
The largest change Coravin has wrought lies in the realm of restaurant wine service. Thousands of restaurants around the globe are now offering wines by the glass that were historically only accessible to people with very deep pockets who were willing to buy a very expensive bottle. Now restaurants can not only offer you a glass of perfectly aged First Growth Bordeaux with your dinner, they can offer literally hundreds of wines by the glass if they wish.
Lambrecht says they have sold more than 100,000 units around the world at this point.
The reception for Coravin has not been universally positive. In fact, when I asked Lambrecht to give me an example of some of the interesting responses he’s gotten to the device, he simply forwarded me an e-mail he received in June of 2014 in response to an inquiry as to whether the sommelier at a particular Munich restaurant would be interested in hosting a tasting to experience the device.
The bulk of the email read as follows:
To be perfectly blunt, I find this System one of the most utterly gut-wrenching abominations of wine culture I have had the displeasure of beholding in my entire tenure as Sommelier thus far. To take a ritual so sacred as breaking bread and drawing corks, and drag it through the icy clutch of laboratory process; to convert something so holy and natural as a cellar, into a veritable Labyrinth of laboratory Rat-filled cages, poked and stuck like Hormone-filled piglets, and gradually drained of their very livelihood by a vampirous captor. This, I find absolutely repugnant.
Not to mention, the opening of Pandora’s Box for all to partake; to place, at the Hands of each and every common criminal, casual con-man and Weekend swindler, the ability to cheat the wine market from the comfort of their own living room. Thereby single-handedly buckling the entire after-market wine trade with one single, treacherous cancer. History has been officially re-written, and thanks in part to this Invention, fraud will no longer be limited to Genius the likes of Rodenstock and Kurniawan, but made readily available to any idiot with a credit Card.
Only to then, even more idiotically, used to pollute the wine market as we know it to such a septic Level, that no wine shall be trusted again; regardless of true Label, hand-blown period bottle, actual capsule, and branded cork. This contraption not only extracts wine from bottles; with it, the entire Soul of our Business, and more importantly, Passion.
All that I can do, with one voice though seemingly in Agreement with several opinionated professionals around the world, is to stand my ground as proverbial second-gunman on the grassy knoll of ethics, and hope that the Tide of this evil is somehow stemmed abruptly. With so many machines already so proliferated around the globe, however, it appears as though considerable damage is already done.
I only hope, that at some Point in his life, Mr. Lambrecht is able to glance past his technological fetishes to understand his role in the Fukushima-esque blunder so unwittingly unleashed into our world. On that note, I am even more delighted to hear about the development of a yet slimmer needle, and on that note, can merely close my eyes in silent reverence to the unwavering constitution of the human Spirit, and the inclination towards “Good” (hopefully) therein.
This fantastic and hysterical polemic was penned by Justin Leone, the wine director at Tantris, a restaurant whose by-the-glass list was just recognized by The World of Fine Wine as one of the best in the world.
Do you want to know the definition of sweet irony? I’ll tell you. Many of the wines on Leone’s newly award-winning list are poured using a Coravin.
So how did Leone go from being Coravin’s ultimate hater to being one of it’s biggest fans? That’s what I called him up to find out last week.
“Greg [Lambrecht] was tickled by my letter, I guess,” said Leone, “and so he decided to come find out who the bastard was that was responsible for it.”
“He showed up under a pseudonym and I ended up serving him. He seemed like a serious diner, and ordered the wines that the menu had recommended with the dishes he was eating, and I saw him writing notes. One of those wines was a wine I personally don’t like but I had in inventory. I snuck a look at his notes and he had written ‘YUCK’ and I thought to myself ‘whoever this guy is, he’s not bad.’ But then after a few more interactions, he slipped a quote from my letter into the conversation and I put two and two together.”
Leone laughed. “‘Now this is really the trojan horse,’ I thought to myself. I waited for the soldiers to march out and I had my spear at the ready.”
Lambrecht hung around until the end of service. “We ended up shooting the shit.” said Leone, “No sales pitch, no nothing. And I realized very quickly that our tastes in wine and our philosophies were very similar. Greg is just your garden variety genius who happened to strike a very volatile nerve in the world of wine. Everyone talks a big game, but this guy came along and really changed the game.”
“My ears were open,” remembered Leone, “and so I said, ‘Let’s drink some wine’ and we just started opening old bottles. After a few of them Greg said to me, ‘you know what, you don’t have to like this thing, just play with it.'”
The two drank together until four in the morning. Leone was left with a serious hangover, a new friend, and a small black box with a dreaded piece of technology in it.
“I started pondering the benefits of it,” admitted Leone, “Once there was closure with him. He was no longer a faceless enemy. I looked into his eyes and realized he was not a ruthless tyrant, and I had no reason to want to get rid of him.”
“There will always be treachery. People will do what they do. But I thought about what I could do to use this thing for good. We have to be guardians of the positives of this thing. Like using the theories of relativity for science, not war.”
“The manifold benefits are amazing of course,” said Leone. “If wine pairing is my passion, which it is, this thing takes it to a whole new level. I don’t have to think twice about selling someone a taste of anything. Some guy comes in and says ‘Listen pal, I want to pay $5000 for the most amazing wine pairing of my life,’ I don’t even blink. I just reach for the La Taches.”
Then Leone went on to say something I hadn’t even considered when it came to the Coravin.
“When I was coming up as a young buck the amount of money I spent on bottles to learn and to broaden my tasting abilities was so immense. I gave every penny I earned back into the wine business. Now people don’t have to do that anymore. If you’re studying for the MS, you invest in a case, taste it periodically, and sharpen up at ten times the speed for one tenth the price. Soon we will have super somms who have much more experience coupled with a public who have also been able to taste the greatest wines in the world. Everyone will have a great idea of quality, and their demands will be higher. This thing will drive wine quality even higher, and will result in a massively more educated wine drinking public.”
All that from a tool invented because a guy wanted to drink just one glass of a good wine while his wife was pregnant.
What was a good tool has recently gotten even better. On September 29th, Lambrecht announced the availability of the Coravin II.
I’ve been testing the redesigned version and definitely believe it to be an improvement on the original (which was pretty well designed to begin with).
If I had any complaints about the first version of the tool, they would have been around the speed at which it pours wine, the stiffness of the clamp around the bottle, and the inertia of the vertical slide used to insert and remove the needle. All three have been significantly improved in the new version.
Coravin claims the device pours 20% faster than the original thanks to even thinner walls in the needle, but my eyeball estimate would have been even higher. The bottle clamp has been completely revamped and is much easier to put on and pull off a bottle, but seemingly without having sacrificed any stability. Those with smaller hands will find it requires much less force to open the clamps and put them on the bottle.
Likewise the vertical slide of the new device is super smooth and easy. It may be that my original Coravin has just gotten a little gunked up over the last year, and become harder to slide up and down. Even so, this new model is much easier to plunge and extract.
The Coravin II also apparently includes a better seating and closure for the gas canister and its cover, as some people apparently had difficulty knowing when it was fully closed and had gas leakage because they didn’t get a tight enough seal on the cartridge. I never experienced that problem, but I could see how it might have been an issue.
The new model is now on sale on the Coravin web site and around the web for $349.95.
I asked Lambrecht what he was up to these days, especially now that the company was successful enough to hire CEO Frederic Levy, the former President of Nespresso North America.
“My CEO is asking me to come back and spend time in the lab working on the next product,” he said. “But I’m not allowed to say much more than that.”
“Oh come on,” I said, “you gotta give me a sense of what you might be working on.”
“I can just tell you this,” said Lambrecht. “My vision has always been to let anyone drink whatever they want, from whatever bottle they choose, in whatever quantity.”
Does that mean we might see a device that could handle sparkling wines in the future?
“My wife loves Champagne,” laughed Lambrecht. “I have an incredible amount of motivation.”