What does Greg Lambrecht have in common with Herbert Allen, Dennis L Burns and Elon Musk?
He's used his experience in one industry to start a revolution in another.
Musk, for those who haven't come across him made a fortune by co-founding PayPal before risking a lot of it on Tesla, the first serious electric automobile manufacturer. Traditional car companies had universally shown little-to-no interest in ditching fossil fuels, and had even destroyed vehicles they had built that offered proof of the electric car concept. Since the arrival of the Tesla, they are tumbling over each other to get their versions on the road. It took an outsider...
Dennis Burns' background had more to do with silicone than Silicon Valley. At the beginning of the 1990s he was making hockey helmets and sunglasses when, on a visit to a wine cellar, he noticed the synthetic bungs in some of the barrels and wondered why similar closures could not be used for wine. Supreme Corq, the business he launched in 1994 has since been supplanted by Nomacorc (for which, to declare an interest, I do some consultancy) but it is acknowledged as having been the first to open the door for synthetic closures. Herbert Allen, inventor of the Screwpull, was a drilling engineer who understood that coating the screw with Teflon would alter and improve the experience of cork removal.
The revolution Greg Lambrecht has started is with the Coravin which allows users to drink as much or as little wine as they like from a bottle without ever actually removing the cork. Ingeniously, the wine is drawn out through a fine needle which effectively replaces it with an inert gas. I haven't tried one yet, but I trust the people who have sufficiently to buy one.
The point of this post, however is not just to point out that revolutions are rarely fomented by insiders, nor to plug Mr Lambrecht's invention. It is to pick up on something he said in the keynote he gave at the Digital Wine Communicators Conference (DWCC). Understanding and satisfying a need is not enough. You have to understand the ecosystem in which the need exists.
There are countless inventions and great ideas that have failed because the soil in which they were planted was insufficiently fertile. Siting them elsewhere (like screwcaps in Australia and New Zealand rather than California) or adding some fertiliser to encourage the growth (as the screwcap-loving supermarkets did by supporting those closures in the UK) may sometimes be the only solution. What doesn't work is simply expecting people whom you know ought to buy into your argument, actually to do so because it's the right thing to do.
Ironically, Lambrecht's invention does not work on synthetic closures, nor for obvious reasons is it applicable to wines sealed with screwcaps or glass Vinoloks. So, its arrival on the scene actually makes the ecosystem even harder for anyone trying to promote those reliable closures, and easier for the undeniably inconsistent natural kind.