Interview with Greg Lambrecht, inventor and founder of Coravin

The story of this American wine enthusiast, whose expertise in chemotherapy implants has led to the creation of one of the world’s best systems for serving and preserving wine, is a fascinating one. Here’s a look back at the story and its happy aftermath…

Before you turned to the medical industry, you were already a wine lover?

I fell in love with wine when I was 16 living in California. Friends brought me to Napa Valley to visit a few wineries. I had my first taste of wine at Peju Winery from the owner, Tony Peju, and fell in love with it immediately. The incredible variety of tastes and smells you can get from the nearly 140.000 different wines being made around the world each year provides a near infinite opportunity for exploration. Yet, a dilemma emerged…

What dilemma?

The need to commit to an entire bottle to enjoy just a glass. I wanted to explore more and learn faster than the necessity of finishing 750ml enabled. While sharing a full bottle made sense for gatherings with friends or when my spouse and I shared the same wine preference, there were times when finishing an entire bottle felt impractical. What if I desired a glass of white followed by red, or perhaps a Sauternes? What if my spouse had a different preference, or if friends came over and they all had different interests in wine. I longed for a way to separate the volume available for sale (a standard 750ml bottle) from the volume intended for consumption. Essentially, I envisioned a wine-by-the-glass program within the comfort of my own home. Thankfully, my background in medical product development, particularly in creating precision instruments for chemotherapy delivery implants, provided me with the expertise to innovate. These tools, engineered to access beneath the skin with minimal impact, served as the inspiration for the initial prototype of Coravin. The day I developed it, I tried five distinct wines, returning each bottle to my cellar afterward. Since that moment, I’ve never looked back.

When and how did the prototyping phase take place?

I developed Coravin for 11 years before starting the company. While serving as CEO of my medical implant company, I dedicated my nights and weekends to refining prototypes. Between 1999 and 2003, I crafted 3 prototypes, rigorously testing various components until discovering the perfect blend of components for wines worldwide. In 2004, I aimed to gift a Coravin to a friend for their wedding, spurring 12 additional iterations to ensure user-friendliness. Concurrently, I conducted blind tastings to guarantee Coravin’s negligible impact on stored wine over extended periods.

What were the main difficulties you encountered?

The hardest part was ensuring that Coravin worked with every variety of wine and every style of wine making. Over 11 years of testing, I wanted to make sure that any wine would be unchanged by Coravin relative to an un-accessed bottle from the same case, no matter the grape, the vintage, or wine making style. My dream was to be able to pour from a bottle multiple times over 5 years and have it remain unchanged. This required testing of hundreds of different wines in a well-controlled prospective test involving 6 bottles of any given wine to be accessed at various times over these 5 years. Ultimately, I went from 30 bottles of wine at the time I had my first prototype to over 3600 bottles by the time we started the company. I must admit, while this was the hardest part, it was also a great education and an enormous amount of fun.

What is the current state of sales?

At this moment, our biggest market remains the United States, closely followed by Europe and Asia. Globally we see a sustainable growth from both B2B as well as B2C customer base. We focus on several markets where we see good growth, with no exceptions. However, as a privately held company, we do not disclose any financial information, but we can share the following numbers: 150M Estimated number of glasses were poured with a Coravin system and 1.2M devices were sold since launch worldwide.

How are sales split between consumers and professionals?

It varies by region, with consumer sales dominating in the U.S., and sales to professionals dominating in Europe and Asia Pacific. Globally, however, a large part of our sales are to professionals. It is also where most consumers are introduced to our products, in the most ideal demonstration setting. Because during the lockdown period, sales to the hospitality industry completely stopped, we strategically adapted our business and managed to build a good consumer business, spreading our opportunities. Since our debut in the European market a decade ago, our professional footprint has grown significantly, spanning restaurants and wineries alike. France stands out as one of the first markets where I dedicated substantial effort and resources. Coravin has garnered trust from professionals worldwide, and in France, over 100 Michelin Star restaurants depend on Coravin technology to craft unique wine-by-the-glass offerings. This widespread adoption serves as the ultimate validation of our product’s quality and reliability.

Do the expectations of each differ? In what ways?

We are extremely fortunate to have developed a group of systems that have equal relevance in the trade and at home, with very little difference in the demands of the two groups. The portability, small size, and ease-of-use work well for both halves of our business. Whereas for the on-trade and trade it is a sales tool to sell more and especially better wine by the glass, for people at home it is mainly a useful system to enjoy any wine, in any quantity, without having to consume the whole bottle. Or, for example, to pair the perfect wine with your food, without having to compromise with yourself or your partner.

How do you explain this success?

In ten years’ time, we have been able to build up our credibility by repeating the blind tasting I performed during development with the wine professionals who first used our systems.  This was an important investment.  As a result, our products are used so diversely. Winemakers, wineries, tasting rooms, educators, retailers, wine merchants, importers, wine press, and restaurants all use Coravin. That unique position has allowed us to establish ourselves as the market leader in the field of wine preservation and gives consumers multiple places where they are able to recognize the potential of Coravin in their own homes.

In 2021, you launched Coravin Sparkling, a new technology for sparkling wines. Has it been well received?

Right from the launch of Coravin Timeless, I was asked if it also works on sparkling wines and for a long time we had to say no to that. That motivated us all the more to develop this product. Coravin Sparkling, preserving sparkling wine for up to a month post-opening, demanded 8 years and over 18 iterations for refinement. Like all our other products, we test extensively with professionals who give their accreditation before we launch. Besides doing so with producers and other leading wine personalities, we were validated specifically by Moet Hennessy as their official sparkling wine preservation system. The response as a result has been incredibly positive. We are seeing more great Champagnes and sparkling wines on the by-the-glass lists at restaurants across the planet, in the same way still wines by-the-glass improved after launch of Coravin Timeless.

And now: what are you working on at the moment?

Beyond Coravin, it’s crucial to acknowledge the significant impact of the expanding online wine sales landscape on the industry. The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online purchases, intensifying competition and raising the bar for service quality. However, the challenge remains the inability to sample the wine before making a purchase. Here enters Coravin once again, disrupting the industry with the introduction of its revolutionary device, Coravin Vinitas™. This innovation is tailor-made to enable businesses to offer tasting bottles of wine in smaller formats to a wider audience with unparalleled quality and preservation. It meets the evolving preferences of younger consumers who prioritize the « try before you buy » approach, while also nurturing their interest in wine education. A decade after Coravin’s launch, our commitment to igniting the spirit of wine exploration remains steadfast. Through ongoing innovation, we empower individuals with the freedom of choice. As we embark on the next decade, expect even more inspiration from us—so, stay tuned!