The makers of Coravin—the device that allows users to extract wine from a bottle without removing the cork—have halted sales and issued a safety advisory urging people to stop using their Coravin devices for the time being. The company issued the advisory after it received seven reports of bottles rupturing while the device was extracting wine—in one incident a bottle broke near a customer's face, cutting their lip and chipping a tooth.
"As soon as we heard about the risk of a bottle breaking when using Coravin, we put out the warning that you should inspect your bottles," Greg Lambrecht, founder and inventor of Coravin, told Wine Spectator. All the bottles that ruptured were apparently damaged before a Coravin was used.
The company issued an initial warning in February, sharing pertinent information about the kinds of bottle flaws that could cause a problem. Now it has halted sales until it can begin including a neoprene sleeve that fits over bottles and prevents any problems. The company will also send sleeves to existing customers. "Testing neoprene sleeves, we feel that they completely contain the unlikely rupture that could happen," said Lambrecht.
Coravin grabbed the attention of wine consumers and restaurateurs when it debuted in 2013. A medical-device inventor, Lambrecht was developing a tool for regularly accessing blood through a needle inserted into the skin when he realized a similar device could penetrate a cork. A thin, hollow needle goes through the cork and a small pump pressurizes the bottle with argon, which causes wine to flow through the needle, into a glass. The cork reseals once the needle has been removed, and the argon prevents oxygen from coming into contact with the wine.
Coravin executives estimate that one out of every 78,000 bottles is at risk of fracture. One risk is a manufacturing flaw in bottles—unmelted glass, which can cause a stress concentration or big bubbles in the glass.
The other is a flaw that results from impact: "When you drop a bottle, it can either chip [but] contain the wine or it will shatter and spill wine all over the place," said Lambrecht. "The vast majority of wines that get dropped just shatter."
The Coravin exerts between 22 and 26 pounds per square inch, according to Lambrecht. "Bottles are normally designed to burst at pressures that are somewhere between six to 10 times that, at a minimum," he added. The company has attempted to mimic the kind of damage described in the reports in lab tests but, Lambrecht said, "we couldn’t even make a bottle that would still hold wine [but] would burst while using the Coravin."
Faced with several reports of problems, however, the company took action. In one of the incidents, a wine collector was reportedly holding a bottle close to his face while using the Coravin. The bottle broke, and the customer sustained a cut on the lip and a chipped tooth.
When can customers expect their neoprene sleeves to arrive? "My hope is that by the beginning of July we can have the armada of neoprene sleeves being sent out to everyone," Lambrecht said. He won't vouch for the safety of any neoprene sleeves not sourced from Coravin. Instructions for inspecting bottles are on the company website. For now, "if you spot [a flaw in the bottle], just don’t use Coravin," Lambrecht said. "You can still pull the cork."