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INTERVIEW – GREG LAMBRECHT : “WE HAVE SERVED MORE THAN 200 MILLIONS GLASSES OF WINE”

Coravin's founder explains how his invention combines the pleasure of wine tasting and sustainable development thanks to the absence of product waste that the use of this wine by the glass system allows

INTERVIEW – GREG LAMBRECHT : “WE HAVE SERVED MORE THAN 200 MILLIONS GLASSES OF WINE”

Coravin's founder explains how his invention combines the pleasure of wine tasting and sustainable development thanks to the absence of product waste that the use of this wine by the glass system allows

Category: Worldwide - Suppliers - Providers - Interviews
Interview made by Guillaume Chollier on 2022-10-21


In just a few years, Coravin has revolutionised the way people enjoy wine. Thanks to its exclusive system, it is now possible to serve yourself a glass of wine without opening the bottle, thus preserving it for years. The principle is simple: when the Coravin is attached to the bottle, a needle pierces the cap and passes through the cork without damage. And by pressing a trigger, a small dose of argon gas is sent into the bottle, which makes the wine come out. Once the tool is removed from the bottle, the cork returns to its original state, the gas prevents oxidation and the wine remaining in the bottle continues to age naturally and can be stored for years in the cellar.

Given the success of the concept with individuals and professionals, for whom Coravin has created a dedicated collection, this leader in Wine Tech has also developed a specific system to adapt its concept to sparkling wines.

On the occasion of the presentation of a limited series, made in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, the Journal des Palaces met Greg Lambrecht, the founder of Coravin. This 54-year-old New Yorker, who had a first career in the medical sector, gave us an insight into his concept, from its inception to the CSR policy of this ambitious company that "has served more than 200 million glasses of wine" and that sets no limits in terms of growth and development.

Journal des Palaces : When did you create Coravin?
Greg Lambrecht : It was when my wife was pregnant with our second son, who is now 23 years old. So I invented it in 1999 for my own use at home. I tested it in my house for 11 years before I started Coravin as a company. But I really didn't think of it as something for as a company when I first invented it. I thought of it as something to change the way that I drink. I wanted to be able to have a glass of sparkling and glass of white, a glass of red any night of the week and not have to worry about when we would finish the bottle. My wife was pregnant, she had stopped drinking, and so I had lost this partner to finish a bottle with. And I hear this from people even today. They thank me for inventing coravin because their wives are pregnant.

I wanted to remove the hesitation that comes from saying, “oh, that wine is too good for tonight”.
Every day is worth a great glass of wine. That's exactly what you want. And there should be no limitations at home or in a restaurant. And so that's what I wanted Coravin to do, and it's it's been really fulfilling to see how it's changed the way that other people drink and how restaurants and wine bars serve wine.

How many people does the company employ today?
We have over 80 employees. We're in 60 countries. We have served more than 200 millions glasses of wine. We launched in 2013, so we're almost 10 years old. It's incredible to see what's happened. We are used by wineries, restaurants, wine bars, trade distributors and importers and people at home. Lots of people, especially post pandemic.

What is the concept based on?
The concept was based on the need I wanted to drink from any bottle I owned, and the quality I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to think about when I was going to drink from that bottle again, still or sparkling. And then came the technology. We are very lucky that cork is so elastic. It's a great corking glass as a way of preserving wine was a brilliant idea by the French and by the British at the same time in the 1600s. It allows us to store wine for a long time and also in medicine where I work. So my real job is in medicine. I've been inventing medical therapies since I was 23.

The first products that I worked on were chemotherapy delivery systems for patients with cancer that needed treatment over a long period of time. We created this implant underneath the skin that we would access with a needle over and over again.  I got good at making needles that didn't do damage to things. Also, my father is a type one diabetic, he was injecting himself with insulin over the course of his entire life and I remember even as a child seeing him stick a needle into a bottle draw out some insulin and give himself an injection. I was familiar with medical knowledge. I combined this need that I had to drink differently, to drink across multiple bottles instead of drinking down one bottle. With this understanding of medical technology that I had, and I think that is the great luck of Coravin was that I understood the technology that could make it happen. I fell in love with wine when I was 16 and I never looked back. Love of wine and knowledge of technology, that gave birth to Coravin.

How did you go from the idea to the marketing of this concept?
I wanted to make sure that a wine I poured a glass from today I could drink again in five years and it would be the same. So, I built prototypes in my basement. I have a machine shop and a laboratory in the basement of my house and so I experimented with different needles, different gases to push the wine out of the bottle, different pressures, different wines. I wanted to make sure that it didn't just work with California cabernet but also with burgundy, riesling, with everything from everywhere. So, I had to buy different wines from around the world and I would experiment and do blind tastings over the course of five years with each of those wines and the different gases and the different pressures. So, there was a lot of science that went on for 11 years in my house.

Since we've launched, I have been lucky to work with an amazing team of engineers that have made it easy to use and beautiful. We went through very quickly eight iterations between when I founded the company and we launched to make it a real consumer product that's rugged for restaurants and still usable at home. As soon as we launched it, we were asked if it was working for champagne. Unfortunately, it was not working for champagne.

So, we started to work on champagne the moment that we founded the company. And so just last year, we launched our first system for champagne. It allows you to drink from any bottle of champagne and preserve that wine for at least a month.

What is your trick for preserving this sparkling wine?
For preserving still wine, we use argon. Argon is 1% of the air we are breathing and I've been lucky to see how they make it. They freeze the air and the stuff that doesn't freeze is argon.

For sparkling wine, it's a stopper that replaces the cork. You open the bottle like you normally do. The beautiful thing about champagne is it has carbon dioxide inside: that actually helps protect from oxidation. Unlike with still wine you don't have to protect it from oxygen when you're pouring. You just have to be able to seal it so that no oxygen can get in or CO2 can get out.

We have a a system. First, you release the pressure, then you serve the champagne or sparkling wine. After that, you re-seal the bottle. You can see a green light. When you push down, the light turns red. That means it’s charging. Then it comes back to green when it's fully charged with CO2.
And then you can store it on its side. Put it back in your wine fridge and drink it for months.

It works for every sparkling wine ?
Yes. For exemple, Prosecco is the lowest pressure that I've run into, and California sparkling is the highest pressure we've run into.

We tested it. That's how I spent my pandemic, testing it on 200 different sparkling wines from around the world, getting this to fit on any bottle from Krug with this very narrow neck or Dom Perignon… That was a fun challenge and finally we achieved it.

Do you often drink champagne?
I did not drink much champagne before we invented this, because you had to commit to the whole bottle. Now I come home, I have a glass of champagne, and then I have a glass of white burgundy ! It changes the way you drink sparkling wine.

What are the advantages of Coravin ?
I'll talk about two situations to explain how Coravin can be useful.

At home, I will never go back to drinking the way that I used to before Coravin. When I come home, I have the freedom to drink a glass of champagne and then a glass of white wine and then a glass of red wine any day of the week or any wine that I want. And if my spouse wants a different wine, she can have whatever she likes. We don't have to have the same wine. And sometimes, what we do is she will have a glass of rosé champagne. I will have a glass of burgundy. We'll take a few sips, will pass the glass to each other. And we have twice the number of experiences. So you can do pairings at home. You know you can have a white wine with something that goes with the white wine : fish. And you can have a red wine that goes with meat. You can have a dessert wine that goes with cheese. So you can recreate the wine bar experience in your house.

And when your friend comes over, they can have whatever they like. At home, that is my tradition : people go to my cellar and they grab whatever they like. And I don't care. It is completely liberating to drink wine as you wish.

My other dream was to be able to go to a restaurant like this one at Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris, and sometimes you're with two three people, you drink a great bottle of wine and you want one more great glass. Before Coravin, normally you were drinking worse glasses of wine because the restaurant worried about throwing it away when it oxidises. They were frightened to open great bottles of wine to serve by the glass. Now with Coravin, you see amazing wines by the glass like Château Yquem by the glass or Château Margaux. They are free to do that because they no longer fear waste.

And so, you know, you'll see things like Krug, Ruinard or Dom Pérignon by the glass under Coravin Sparkling, and you'll see four or five white Burgundies, good Bordeaux or dessert wines like Château Yquem by the glass in a restaurant. And it's that freedom to explore their wines in the way that you want that I was hoping Coravin would do and it's great to see it happening.

How many patents protect Coravin?
We are now over 100 patents. I come from the world of medicine and medical devices, and, in my field, patents are important. And so, we gave the same importance to Coravin. We have patents on sparkling and on our still wine products and you know that's it's just part of modern commerce. We even have patents in China and the United States and as a result, we don't really have any direct competition.

How many different models do you sell?
We have three basic systems. We have sparkling, we have timeless, you know, which uses a needle, goes through the cork, pours the wine, you remove it, the wine lasts for years and then we have a newly launched Pivot.

Pivot is our new product. I was in Australia and a restaurant owner said to me: “I love Coravin, but it doesn't work with screw cap wines or plastic corks or glass corks. It pours too slowly for my restaurant, and I don't need the wine to last for five years. So can you make something for me?” That’s why we developed Pivot, our most affordable system.

It works with a stopper, so you remove the screw cap or the glass cork. Then, you replace with our stopper. It has a valve at the top you place a big tube through, then you tip it sideways and press. It pours very quickly. And then you remove and close the valve. With such a system, the wine doesn't last for years, but it lasts for a month. Many restaurants and young consumers use Pivot, because you can serve quicker. It pours a glass in about 5 seconds, whereas Timeless pours a glass in about 15 seconds. Restaurants appreciate Pivot because they need speed to serve. It also works with argon.

How many units do you sell a year?
We don't give out our yearly figures, but the number of units we sell has been increasing every year. I know that we have served over 200 million glasses of wine worldwide.

Our biggest countries are the United States, France and the UK. The fastest growing market before the pandemic was China.

Is it easy to buy argon capsules ?
You can buy Coravin products on our website at www.coravin.fr but you can also find some in great stores like Le Bon Marché or Le Printemps and other wine stores around the city as well as stores like FNAC or Darty. Even Amazon provides Coravin Argon capsules. 

Do you work with the luxury hotels?
Yes. We are in Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris, in Le Cheval Blanc and its restaurant at the top of La Samaritaine. We also work with Ritz-Carlton for many years all over the world. And we are frequently in top of the range restaurants and bars. We very much believe in France as an important market and Paris is an extremely important market, so we have our own sales staff for Coravin in Paris.

We have a trade version of our system that we recently launched as well for restaurants, wine bars, hotels. It's a longer capsule with more gas than our consumer model because we wanted to give the restaurants an advantage, particularly after the pandemic.

What do the wine industry think of Coravin?
It is my philosophy that the most important people to work with during the development of your system are the producers. So, when I was developing Timeless, I went to Napa Valley, to Bordeaux, to Burgundy and to Piemonte to meet the producers because we use our product on theirs, so they should find out about our systems first. For example, recently we developed sparkling during the pandemic and we worked very closely with Krug, Dom Pérignon, Luna and Veuve Cliquot.
They tested our systems during its development. We even became the official sparkling preservation system for Moët & Hennessy as a result.
I've been lucky to meet the folks in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Château Margaux was great with us. We worked very closely with them and still do. Also in Burgundy with Bouchard and other producers who has tested our systems and then in California, obviously all the different California Cabernet producers.

Did they adopt Coravin system?
Many of them do. Many Burgundy producers use Coravin to sample wines to their guest. The most use of Coravin wine region in the world is probably in Burgundy. It’s a big success.
It was important for me because if they believe in your product, you have a chance of success. If they don't believe in your product, you're finished.

Why did you create a special edition of Coravin in collaboration with Keith Haring?
I love art and I believe wine is art you drink. And wine producers are artists, so there is a natural connexion between art and wine. Then, the second reason is I grew up in New York City where I was born in 1969. And when I was a young man, I remember seeing Keith Haring art. He was a graffiti artist and he painted in the streets. I remember it caught my eye as a young boy. And so when we had the chance to work with the Keith Haring Foundation, we jumped at it. The Keith Haring Foundation is a charity that focuses on medicine and health. Originally started for AIDS. I am deeply in love with medicine as I spent half my life in medicine, half in wine. And so, there were many connexions. His art is beautiful and we have the chance to make something that is functional and also beautiful. We only made a few thousand of these worldwide. I have one at home and I’m so proud of this collaboration.

Can you tell me about your the company’s CSR policy?
When we launched Coravin, it was much heavier than the system that we have now. One of the biggest carbon footprint components of any system is size and weight, because things are shipped around the world. The biggest part of the carbon footprint of wine is the weight. So we have worked extremely hard to drop the weight and the size of our packaging and the device itself.

The other worst waste in terms of carbon footprint is if it breaks and someone throws it away. The worst waste with wine is throwing wine down the drain because it is oxidised or with sparkling wine that has gone flat. So we have contributed on carbon footprint on several ways that are extremely durable. They do not break. Our return rate is less than 1%.

So that is extremely important to me. We reduce the wastage of wine. So much wine is thrown away every year and if you think about that, it's the production, the glass, the cork, the movement, the refrigeration of that wine and then somebody drinks half the bottle and throws it away.

The third is the use capsules of argon gas. We made sure that the capsule is fully recyclable.

And then, we are looking at ways that we can reduce the number of shipping of our product as well, the recyclability of the system itself, we think about it every day. 

What are the next areas of improvement of your system?
When I founded the company, I said we will expand the ways that wine can be consumed, served and sold. That's our mission. We are not going to destroy any existing way. We're just going to add on top new ways. So we still open bottles at Coravin. We want to create new moments when wine makes sense.

There's one new system that I would like to launch that once again expands the number of ways that wine can be drunk served and sold. I can't mention it yet but we are in testing now with wineries, because we always start with the wineries. So you’ll see it next year if it works.

About the author

A journalist for 20 years, Guillaume is a fan of exclusive places where comfort, quality of service and gastronomy are combined. All this, tinged with a simplicity and a smile that are the prerogative of the ultimate luxury.


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