Medical device specialist Greg Lambrecht has a wine collection to envy. But when his wife was pregnant, he faced a dilemma: he wanted to enjoy a nice glass of wine in the evenings without having to either polish off whole bottles or leave the delicious contents to decline.
What if he could remove a bit of wine from the bottle without removing the cork? he thought.
That's when the wheels started turning in his inventive mind. More than a decade ago, Lambrecht started imagining, and then testing, prototypes for a device that was launched this week.
Called Coravin, the device includes a long needle that penetrates the cork, extracts wine from the bottle and then replaces the wine with argon, an inert gas that doesn't interact in a negative way with the wine.
Lambrecht, who has worked in medicine since 1993, had developed a special needle that could be used with medical devices to safely deliver long-term drugs such as chemotherapy into the bloodstream without damaging the device or causing infection.
"I had one of these needles, and I'm looking at the bottle, and I'm thinking there's got to be a way I can use this to get wine out of the bottle without ever removing the cork and exposing the wine to oxygen ... which starts the aging clock," Lambrecht said.
He began experimenting, and from 2000 to 2011 tried different needles and gases, retasting the bottles of wine a year after he'd extracted a glass, and then again after two years and five years.
"I took my medical-device training and did prospective, blinded trials," said Lambrecht, chairman and founder of Coravin, which is based in Waltham, Mass. "I would scramble the glasses, and I'd try to see if I could tell the difference between the two, and pick which one had been accessed."
His tasty science experiments involved testing wines from a variety of regions and vintages, with older and newer cork designs. A cork, which is a biological tissue, after all, will reseal as long as it is under pressure, Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht explored using helium or nitrogen to help preserve the wine before settling on argon.
"My son wanted me to use helium, but it didn't work," Lambrecht said. "Helium is so small that it can get through the cork."
When he tried nitrogen, he found he could taste a difference in the wine five years after opening the bottle.
As he worked, Lambrecht filed a series of patents. The device, now selling for $299, is geared to any wine drinker, whether an individual aficionado or a winemaker who wants to test a bottle before release, and to restaurants or tasting rooms that want to offer more wines by the glass, he said.
Martinelli Winery and Vineyards in Windsor was one of the early testers of the device. Lambrecht contacted them because, as a fan of their wine, he wanted to use it in his release party, said Regina Martinelli, executive vice president. The winery has been experimenting with it for several weeks.
"When I saw it, I was like, 'This is the answer to everything I've been wanting to do," Martinelli said. "I can now do high-end library wines from the '90s and 2000s in tastings without opening the whole bottle ... and the bottle's still good months, years later."