When the Coravin was launched in July 2013, there were plenty of skeptics: Could the device really extract a glass of wine from a bottle and leave the remainder sealed and fresh? And was there a market for that? "To get somebody to change behavior [after] 400 years of wine in glass bottles with corks is not the easiest thing," said inventor and founder Greg Lambrecht. He expected to sell 20,000 to 30,000 in the first few years.
Despite the learning curve, as well as some setbacks, Coravin sales have exceeded 100,000 units, and the company has raised more than $39 million in funding. Now Lambrecht and his team are doubling down, hoping to tap into a much broader market. On Sept. 29, they launched a new generation of Coravin, dubbed Model Two.
A medical-device inventor, Lambrecht began tinkering with a Coravin prototype in 2003, testing it for years before commercial release. The device clamps on the neck of a bottle, inserts a needle into the cork and pours wine while replacing the displaced wine with inert argon gas. The needle is thin enough that the small puncture reseals. "I seriously just thought it was me who wanted to do this," Lambrecht told Wine Spectator. "I wanted to be able to drink a vertical of second-growth producers from Bordeaux that I really liked, in an evening, on a Wednesday."
He initially targeted restaurants, off-premise retailers and other trade representatives, who would grasp the utility of a single-glass dispenser. CEO Frédéric Lévy, hired away from Nespresso in February 2015, estimated that sales so far have been 60 percent trade, 40 percent home consumer. The goal with the Model Two is to shift those figures to 20/80. Levy and Lambrecht are looking to expand to retailers that don't specialize in wine, such as Bloomingdale's, Sur La Table and Neiman Marcus—and Amazon.
While there were bumps along Coravin's progress, specifically reports of some bottles rupturing, the company had been working diligently to develop a new model. Executives surveyed Coravin owners on how they used their devices and what could be improved with a new version. They found that home users were already getting creative, extracting half a glass for cooking or a drizzle of Sauternes to go on dessert. But Lambrecht's vision is more ambitious. "I want to see people's homes with three bottles on the counter and three in the fridge," said Lambrecht. "And they're rotating through those over the course of a week."
Model Two, base-priced at $330 with add-ons like multiple-needle kits and carrying cases, is improved in three key ways over the original Model Eight ($300). The cup that holds the argon capsule screws all the way shut while puncturing the canister, preventing people from puncturing it incorrectly and letting the gas fizzle out. The new model has a bigger, textured grip that makes it easier to handle. And the needle is equally thin but with a wider passage, allowing a 20 percent faster pour.
The demand for home use is real, believes Olivier Flosse, wine director for the MARC US restaurant group, which includes Wine Spectator Grand Award–winner A Voce Columbus in New York. Flosse has been using the device since its release. "Because of the Coravin, we're getting a 25 percent increase in our wine-by-the-glass revenue" from customers ordering high-end glass pours, he said. "People ask, 'Where can I get that? It is an amazing idea.'"
Even as Coravin promotes Model Two, technicians and marketers are looking farther ahead, developing webinars and educational materials—Lambrecht sees the device as a natural fit for the young generation of wine drinker interested in exploring a diverse range of regions and styles. "Our goal is to be able to allow anyone to drink whatever kind of wine they want—still, sparkling, whatever—in whatever closure it may be contained—screwcap, plastic cork, standard cork—whenever they want," said Lambrecht.
Having proved Coravin's utility and salability in the past two years, the team thinks it can change the way the world drinks wine. "From the connoisseur," said Lévy, "to every wine drinker in the world."