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Industry Innovator: Coravin Founder, Greg Lambrecht

Industry Innovator: Coravin Founder, Greg Lambrecht

Coravin Founder, Greg Lambrecht

When Greg Lambrecht founded Coravin, he revolutionized how we drink wine. The wine preservation system goes toe to toe against oxygen, wine’s natural foe when it comes to keeping an open bottle fresh and drinkable. Coravin offers a solution to a time-related problem.

Greg Lambrecht initially began experimenting with prototypes in the 1990s. The system uses small medical-grade needles inserted into the wine’s cork closure to pour the wine. Once it’s removed, the cork expands into its initial, undisturbed state. 

Using his dual degrees from MIT, a passion for wine, and an innate drive within the entrepreneurial world, Greg Lambrecht founded Coravin with Josh Makower in 2011. The Model C1000 has evolved into several different systems, including the Timeless Eleven – the first automated system that connects to an app. Over the years, Coravin has also taken the time to focus on bottles with stelvin (screw cap) closures. And more recently, a preservation system for sparkling wines.

Read further to find out Lambrecht’s view of being innovative in the wine industry.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nicole MacKay: What aspects of your personality makes you a natural innovator? 

Greg Lambrecht: A friend once told me that when I walk into a room, I don’t see what’s there; I see what isn’t there. Similarly, when I look at an object, I don’t see the object; I see the unmet need that someone was trying to address by creating the object. I’m always looking for better ways to address the need beyond the object already created. It’s something different about my brain.

NM: When did you realize that you were an innovator?

GL: I’m not sure that this is a moment I realized. It’s so entirely woven into the fabric of my life. However, I remember realizing that I wanted to become an entrepreneur – I was in graduate school for engineering after spending my undergraduate studies and the first few years of my career working on inventions with no business potential. During this time, I realized that while many invent, those inventions must become successful businesses to change the world. I walked to the business school and met a professor studying entrepreneurship. He started me on this life, combining my inventive nature with an entrepreneurial drive.

NM: Describe the moment in your career when your passion for wine shifted to focus on the business of wine.

GL: I’ve loved wine since I was 16, but it was a hobby until I started handing out early prototypes of what would become the Coravin System (then Wine Mosquito) to family and friends and then friends-of-friends. My requested compensation was a nice bottle of wine in exchange for the prototype. As time went on, the value of the bottles increased and, in some cases, became cases of wine, a clear sign of how much they valued the system. The early hand-made prototypes would also wear out or leak after heavy use. I would get desperate calls or emails requesting a fix or replacement with notes stating that the Coravin had become so integral to how they consumed wine — that they no longer wanted to be without it. When you stimulate this kind of passion, you’ve got a business.

Coravin prototypes by Greg Lambrecht
Early Coravin prototypes. Image from Coravin website.

NM: Describe a time when you were sure you couldn’t accomplish what you were hoping for but ended up succeeding. 

GL: Since starting Coravin, I have dreamed of making a wine preservation system that works with sparkling wine. I spent six years working on a method that poured wine without opening the bottle. The prototypes were so complex. You needed an octopus with a PhD to get sparkling wine into the glass. A research and development team member finally asked the obvious question, “Can we get the last glass to be as good as the first even after you open the bottle?” Two years later, we have it. My fixation on solving a technical problem (pouring sparkling wine without removing the cork) blinded me to solving the actual problem (enabling the freedom to explore sparkling wine by the glass without hesitation or waste). I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

NM: How do you foster innovation among those on your team/colleagues?

GL: At Coravin, we hire people who have shown the initiative to move quickly – and passionately – on great ideas. We then make sure everyone knows that nothing is sacred, especially our own systems and that anything can change as long as we fulfill our mission to advance the enjoyment of wine.

NM: What kind of innovation are you excited to see in the wine industry? Either in the near or distant future. 

GL: In the U.S., I’d love to see continued innovation in the legislation surrounding the sale and distribution of wine. There is so much opportunity for creativity in the wine industry if regulating bodies were to pull back on constraints. Some positive changes came about by the pandemic, with restaurants and bars selling wine and cocktails to-go. But there would be so much more innovation if there were fewer complexities of on-premise vs off-premise wine sales.

NM: What wine region do you believe is being the most innovative with their winemaking?

GL: Australia is making some amazing wines across the country, applying modern and ancient techniques without constraint in style. There is a freedom of thought that results in some truly wonderful wines and unexpected smells and tastes. Natural Pinot Noirs and Shiraz from South Australia can be unique and wonderful – I can’t get enough of them.

NM: If you had $1 million to implement a new idea to push the industry forward, what would it be? 

GL: Coravin is working on something radical and exciting. It could expand how wine is served and sold. If we are successful, it will empower consumers in unprecedented ways to enjoy, explore and experience wine. We always try to do this, and that’s always worth $1M.

NM: And because wine is meant to be fun, what’s your go-to beverage after a long day?

GL: Sparkling wine! While working for years on Coravin Sparkling, I had to do a lot of testing looking for “edge-cases” — wines with the highest and lowest perlage, wines with no sulfur, low versus high dosage, made from white grapes or red, young vintages versus old, and from regions all over the wine-making world. The incredible variety of smells and tastes in this category is stunning. I fell in love with it. Sparkling wines went from being a tiny fraction of the wine I drink to roughly half. It just makes me happy.

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