Greg Lambrecht’s wine cellar contains about 1,500 bottles.
“I don’t know how many of them are still full,” he said, chuckling. It is hard to tell because Lambrecht drinks from the bottles without removing the corks. That way, he can enjoy just one glass at a time from a costly bottle, and then wait as long as he wants before tasting it again.
It is a neat trick, and Lambrecht, an MIT-trained nuclear engineer and founder of Intrinsic Orthopedics Inc., a Woburn medical device company, has spent the past decade mastering it. Now he is going to share his innovation with other affluent wine buffs, at $300 a pop.
The Coravin Wine Access System, set to go on sale Monday at the company’s website, is built of stainless steel and aluminum. It looks like NASA’s idea of a corkscrew. But instead of a screw, there’s a Teflon-coated needle that easily pierces the cork. The device contains a small canister of compressed argon, an inert gas that makes up about 1 percent of the earth’s atmosphere. Unlike oxygen, argon does not react readily with other chemicals, so it will not affect the flavor of the wine.
By pressing a button, argon is injected into the bottle, pressurizing it. When the bottle is tipped, the wine comes streaming through the needle and out a small nozzle.
Set the bottle down, and the excess pressure is released. But the empty space in the bottle remains full of argon, and not oxygen, which can cause the wine to deteriorate.
When the needle is removed, the hole in the cork seals itself. No wine can leak out; no air can seep in. Each argon cartridge costs $9.95 and contains enough gas to pump out about 15 glasses of wine.
Lambrecht came up with the idea in 2000, when his wife, who was pregnant, gave up drinking wine. Suddenly, he needed a way to reseal a partially consumed bottle. There were devices that let a user replace the original cork and fill the bottle with nitrogen, another inert gas, but Lambrecht hated them.
“They’re either dirt cheap and really don’t work or they’re really expensive and they work for a month,” he said. “And they all require you to remove the cork.”
Instead, Lambrecht wanted something that would let him preserve a partially consumed bottle for years. He found that wine preserved with nitrogen would start going bad after a couple of years, but argon-filled bottles lasted much longer. And he used his medical-device expertise to design a way to pierce a cork without ruining it.
Lambrecht nailed down the basic design by 2004, but he spent a decade testing the Coravin device before bringing it to market. “I was making it for myself,” he said. “I wanted it to be perfect.”
Lisa Lamme, owner of Gypsy Kitchen, a popular wine shop in Quincy, said the Coravin’s hefty price tag would make it unsuitable for her clientele. But Lamme said it seemed like an excellent option for the hard-core oenophile.
“That person who has no cares about money — perfect thing for them,” she said.
Lamme also predicted the Coravin would be a hit with wineries looking for a better way to sample wines as they age. “They’re winging it right now,” she said. “Now they have a little bit better of a tool.”
Of course, everyday wine lovers will probably just finish that bottle of Yellow Tail, or perhaps shove the cork back in. But Lambrecht hopes to go downmarket next year with a less expensive Coravin model.
Also, the Coravin has been tested at a Legal Sea Foods restaurant and at restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Lambrecht plans to incorporate the testers’ suggestions into a heavy-duty model. Restaurateurs want a version with a bigger argon gas cartridge, a warning light for when gas is running low, and a valve that will dispense exactly the right amount of wine.
It is a tall order for a device that waiters will have to carry around all evening, but Lambrecht is sure he can manage it.
“I’m a nuclear physicist,” he said. “Give me a year. I’ll figure it out.”Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.