How Greg Lambrecht solved an age-old wine quandary through medical device technology.
Long before Greg Lambrecht was changing the world of wine, he was an inventor—and in a sphere not even remotely related to restaurants. In fact, the founder of Coravin and its proprietary Wine Preservation System studied physics and engineering at the graduate level before going into healthcare.
“I work in medicine and had been an entrepreneur in medical devices since grad school,” says Lambrecht, who spent five years at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer before starting his own company, Intrinsic Therapeutics. “I am a lover of wine, but I didn’t know the industry at all when I invented Coravin. To be frank, it came out of a personal need.”
As Lambrecht tells it, his wife was pregnant with their second child, and he was reluctant to open a whole bottle because the wine was “too good to drink.” At the same time, he was desperate to taste it, and, in theory, learn whether that same varietal would taste better in five years. At the time, Lambrecht had recently created a pediatric chemotherapy device that used an ultra-fine needle. “I remember thinking that there’s got to be a way I can use this needle to get wine out of a bottle without air ever coming into contact with the wine,” Lambrecht says.
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It took eight years of tinkering before Coravin was founded and an additional two years before the first product was ready for market. The name derives from Latin, with cor meaning heart and vin meaning wine. The Wine Preservation System penetrates the cork to pour wine without ever breaking the seal or disrupting bottle pressure.
In the early development stages, Lambrecht focused on everyday wine aficionados like himself as the target clientele, but around 2006 he realized that restaurants, bars, and wine shops could be just as vital.
“As a customer, I wanted to be able to go to a restaurant and explore their wines by the glass. I’d love to have three to four different wines in an evening,” he says.
Even before the very first Coravin was available for purchase, the company had nine restaurants in New York and San Francisco, including such power brokers as Eleven Madison Park, The NoMad, and Press Club, piloting the device and providing feedback. With a Coravin on hand, operators could shift their wine menus to include more by-the-glass options; this in turn drove order volume and revenue not just for single servings, but for the overall wine section as well.
“Restaurants have been one of our focuses from the beginning. And then we were hoping the consumer would see it in the winery and restaurant,” Lambrecht says. Early on that was exactly how Coravin drove its retail division, but now word of mouth is the main driver of direct-to-consumer sales. The brand is also available in 60 countries.
For both restaurants and consumers, the technology marks a change in behavior because it eliminates the risk in pulling the cork.
When asked how inventing in the foodservice space differs from the medical device field, Lambrecht cites a few examples. For one, it’s easier to pass regulations for consumer products. Another major difference is the scale: Medical devices could find their way into the hands of some 2,000 doctors, while the Coravin could reach 34 million wine drinkers.
Despite these differences, the core mission and impetus that drive Lambrecht are the same across the board.
“I was worried when I started Coravin that I wouldn’t have the same passion. All businesses are hard; you’re going to run into problems. The thing that gets you through that is a common passion,” he says. “People care about wine. There was a surgeon I work with the Netherlands who said, ‘I understand your career. You work on medicine to keep us alive, and you work on wine to give us a reason to stay alive.’” l