From corkscrew to Coravin: the product transforming wine service
Always wanted to expand your by-the-glass offering, but been deterred by the amount of wastage? Well, this nifty little gadget could rock your wine world, writes Christine Salins.
Shannon Kellam and his wife Clare Wallace had long been intrigued by bars and restaurants that were able to serve an extensive line-up of wines by the glass. So when they were introduced to the Coravin device earlier this year, they embraced it wholeheartedly.
In April the couple took over Brisbane's Montrachet, and shortly after had their first experience with the Coravin – a device which enables them to offer obscure and top shelf wines by the glass.
Developed by American Greg Lambrecht, the Coravin 1000 Wine Access System is a stainless-steel gadget that can be clamped onto bottles sealed with cork, but can't be used with synthetic closures or screw caps.
Lambrecht developed 23 prototypes before coming up with a design that would allow wine to be extracted without removing the cork. A long needle is inserted through the foil and cork, allowing as much or as little wine as you like to be extracted. The bottle is then filled with inert argon gas from a small replaceable cylinder. When the needle is extracted, the cork's natural elasticity reseals the hole.
The device was launched in the US about two years ago and has been widely embraced by many top New York establishments. It sells for around $300 in the US, its value not in the extraction of the wine – which could be done more easily with a cheap $5 corkscrew – but in the fact that, as far as sophisticated palates can tell, there is no discernible change to the wine that remains in the bottle.
This makes it appealing to restaurateurs who can offer rare and expensive wines on by-the-glass menus, confident in the knowledge that the remaining wine won't be wasted.
According to Lambrecht, the device can keep an "accessed" bottle of wine fresh indefinitely and to prove it, he stages blind taste tests with high profile sommeliers, writers and winemakers. Wine critic Robert Parker has described it as "the most transformational and exciting new product for wine lovers" of the past three decades.
Montrachet's new owners were introduced to the Coravin by Queensland Master of Wine, Peter Scudamore-Smith, and because the restaurant is renowned for its extensive list of French wines, it's been a Godsend.
"We thought 'what a great way to showcase some more expensive wines, by being able to serve them by the glass,'" Wallace said.
Although the restaurant's list has a heavy emphasis on wine from Burgundy, all the main regions of France are represented. In what could possibly be unique in Australia, not a single Australian wine is on the list.
This is how former owner, Thierry Galichet, ran it and Kellam and Wallace, who he hand-picked to take over the restaurant, have continued the tradition.
Before acquiring its two Coravin devices, Montrachet relied on a vacuum pump for its wines by the glass. It offered a standard list of four whites, four reds, a sparkling and a few dessert wines, all of which had a shelf life of a few days at most. Now, they've been able to broaden the list, offering wines at $25 to $40 a glass.
"We try to get something obscure that people might not have heard of – some more expensive wines and some cheaper ones too."
Upselling is not the point. "We don't put a huge mark-up on them … It's not generating a huge new income for us, it's more about giving our customers what they want.
"Everything we do is about giving people the best possible experience."
Because the wine is poured in a steady trickle, Wallace says the Coravin might not be for every restaurant – Montrachet has just 45 seats so they can take the time to do it.
"It's not a quick process. It's not the same as pulling a cork. You wouldn't want to be doing 100 each service."
But she says "It's ideal for people wanting to experience different wines – their partner might not drink or they might want to match a particular wine with a particular dish."
While customers might not spend the money to buy a whole bottle, they might be willing to pay for a glass in order to be able to taste wines of renown and age. Wallace's chef husband is a prime example.
"Shannon very rarely drinks. He's exactly the type of person who would go into a restaurant and order a $45 glass. It might be the only glass he has all month but he'll want it to be beautiful and matched perfectly with his meal."