Keurig’s popular single-serve coffee makers have inspired a host of startups trying to replicate the approach with smoothies, craft beer, cocktails, soup, and more. Convince people that purchasing your appliance will make their lives easier, the theory goes, and they won’t mind getting locked into buying a steady supply of the desired goods from your company—even if it means paying a premium in some cases.
Kuvée is taking a similar approach with its smart wine bottle. The young Boston startup began taking preorders of its product today on Indiegogo, and it also announced that it has raised $6 million to date from investors to help it make a splash in the market. The money comes from General Catalyst Partners, Founder Collective, the hardware investor and manufacturing consultant Bolt, and several individuals.
“The U.S. wine industry is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, and the demographics of wine lovers are changing rapidly. But despite these shifts, the industry has been slow to innovate beyond the glass bottle and cork,” said Vijay Manwani, Kuvée’s founder and CEO, in a prepared statement. “Much like a restaurant wine list, Kuvée lets drinkers enjoy a curated selection of wines, one glass at a time, adding a new level of choice, personalization, and convenience to the at-home wine experience.”
Customers will buy a Kuvée smart wine bottle, along with wines delivered in 750-milliliter canisters (the same capacity as a typical glass wine bottle). These canisters get inserted into Kuvée’s bottle device, and a patented valve system enables wine to escape without oxygen entering the container. The wine stays fresh for up to 30 days after opening, Kuvée said. That means customers can pour a glass of wine from one canister, switch to another that contains a different type of wine, and not worry about the contents of the containers spoiling if they don’t get polished off in a single sitting.
“Currently, wine drinking is dictated by a two- to three-day oxidation window before wine spoils,” Kuvée chief technology officer Ed Tekeian said in an e-mail to Xconomy. “Kuvée wines’ 30-day shelf life completely changes how consumers make decisions around wine.”
Other features of the Internet-connected Kuvée device include a touchscreen that displays the amount of wine remaining (the canisters are opaque), the origins of that particular vintage, food pairings, and serving tips. Users can tell the device which wines they enjoyed most, and it can then make personalized recommendations. “Kuvée opens up the way consumers drink and learn about wine,” Tekeian said.
Wines can be purchased via the bottle’s touchscreen. Right now, Kuvée is selling wines from California wineries like Bonny Doon Vineyard, Schug Winery, B.R. Cohn, and Pine Ridge Vineyards for $15 to $50 per container. That price range is in line with typical retail prices, the company said. (For more on Kuvée’s pitch, watch its marketing video below.)
The company’s featured presale deal is $179 for the Kuvée bottle device and four wines, a package valued at $349. Once the discounted packages are sold out, the Kuvée device will cost $249, Tekeian said.
The first batch of orders are expected to ship to customers in California and Massachusetts in October. Kuvée said it will make its products more widely available in December.
It’s too early to predict if Kuvée will catch on with consumers, but Bolt’s Ben Einstein is optimistic. “You can see the look in people’s faces after they try Kuvée for the first time, they don’t want to go back to glass bottles from the liquor store,” Einstein said in an e-mail message.
Einstein is a believer in the “Keurig for X” business model, when done right. As he wrote in a blog post a year ago, one of the keys is a company’s device must be the “mechanism for delivery” of “the thing you actually want to consume.” Thus, Einstein argued, people get annoyed when they have to buy replacement blades for their razor or ink cartridges for their printer, but they don’t mind buying pods of coffee for their Keurig machine or e-books for reading on their tablet. Kuvée fits in the latter category because once the startup sells its gadget, it can focus on “repeatedly selling the core product that consumers want (wine in this case),” Einstein said in the e-mail.
Still, the 12-person company’s path to success won’t be anywhere near as smooth as a sip of wine. Einstein put it in perspective: “Building a software company is super hard. Building a software business plus a hardware business is even harder. Building software plus hardware plus on-demand distribution and supply chain for a consumable/perishable item”—as is the case with Kuvée—“is as hard as it gets.”