Kuvée is trying to reinvent wine with a ridiculous Wi-Fi bottle


The Kuvée Bottle is, without question, one of the most ridiculous Internet of Things devices I've ever seen. It's a Wi-Fi connected wine bottle with a touchscreen that needs to be constantly recharged and is only compatible with proprietary wine cartridges. In exchange for this hassle, it promises to keep wine fresh for up to 30 days. It's exactly the kind of absurd product the Internet of Things is deservedly mocked for, and yet I love it for that very reason.

This is the first product from Kuvée, a young startup out of Boston. There are really two parts to it: the bottle, and the wine cartridge that fits inside it, slid in through an opening at its base. When you put in a new cartridge, the bottle will detect what you're drinking and display a digital label on its touchscreen. It has everything you'd expect to find on a wine's label, like a logo, the grape, and alcohol content, plus a bunch of background information. You can also see photos of who made the wine, read pairing notes, and get full details on the wine's makeup. It'll even estimate how much wine you have left in the bottle.

Using the bottle's touchscreen, you can browse and purchase the other wines available through Kuvée. At launch, there are 48 wines from 12 wineries. "As wide of a variety that we can get," says Ed Tekeian, Kuvée's chief technology officer. For the most part, you'll be looking at wines in the $15 to $30 range, with some going as high as $50 (all sold in standard, 750ml bottles). Kuvée is aiming for the wine drinker who wants something better than Two Buck Chuck, but isn't regularly dropping money on fine, aged bottles. Because it's promising 30 days of freshness, Kuvée imagines that its customers might keep open a couple bottles at a time — maybe a red and a white.

kuvee smart wine bottle-news-Amelia Krales/The Verge

The Kuvée Bottle doesn't do anything particularly fancy to keep its wine from spoiling — there's no argon gas or vacuum sealing, nor are there preservatives beyond what you'd find in a normal bottle. Instead, Kuvée relies entirely on its cartridges to keep the wine fresh. They're made out of a metal that Tekeian describes as "oxygen impermeable" (although I’m not sure why this is necessary, as the canisters have a hole at the bottom to let air in and out). The wine is sealed in a bag inside the cartridge, and the bag collapses as the wine is poured out. The overall effect is that little oxygen comes in contact with the wine, supposedly allowing it to stay fresh longer.

I wasn't able to put Kuvée's claim fully to the test, as I only had its bottle for about five days. But I was able to taste wine after those five days, and, at least to my tongue, it certainly tasted like it was a few days old. I ran the wine by a few other people around the Vox Media office: a couple people said they could tell that it had been opened, but wouldn't have thought it had been open for nearly a week; while others said they would have believed it had just been opened. Now, to be clear, none of us are wine experts — I can tell the difference between red and white, very good and very bad, but that's about it — so you should take our five-day assessment with a grain of salt. But my initial impression is that anyone who's already sensitive to spoiling wine won't buy into Kuvée's 30-day guarantee.

Chemical testing was used to monitor the wine's quality over time

Kuvée says that it's done a lot of testing to ensure that it can live up to its 30-day promise. "We've been testing since last summer," Tekeian says. "We work with a group of sommeliers who taste [the wine]." Those sommeliers then let Kuvée know which attributes the wine is losing over time. Kuvée is okay with losing certain qualities that only an expert might detect; the problem only comes when a typical drinker can taste the dip in quality.

In addition to running its wine by expert tasters, Kuvée has also taken a more scientific approach to determining how its wine changes once opened. "We measure chemically how wine changes depending on how much is out and for how long," says Tekeian. Together, the research made Kuvée comfortable with promising 30 days of drinkable wine.

kuvee smart wine bottle-news-Amelia Krales/The Verge

For being such a high-tech gadget, the Kuvée Bottle still feels a lot like a traditional glass bottle. Its main function — pouring wine — is identical, too: you just tilt the bottle, and it begins to pour. So long as a wine cartridge is inside, the neck is always open.

But there are a lot of areas where the Kuvée Bottle is distinctly worse than an actual bottle of wine. Because it isn’t made of glass, you can’t see how much is left in the bottle (and its tiny digital indicator is only an estimation). And because there’s a big touchscreen on it, you have to regularly recharge the bottle (by placing it in the charging stand, seen left) if you want to, say, find out what grape you’re drinking or what a wine’s alcohol content is. Recharging wouldn’t be so bad if the bottle could go a few days on a single charge, but Kuvée says it'll only stay on for five to six hours. That meant my unit was constantly dead, because I kept forgetting to plug it in overnight. And let me add that, after several glasses of wine, you’re probably going to forget to plug this thing back in, too.

There is, at least, one saving grace. Even if its battery dies, it can still pour the wine. "We never want to prevent you from having a glass of wine," Tekeian says.

Kuvée wants to make money selling wine, not gadgets

Though pouring feels natural, serving multiple Kuvée wines with a meal is less elegant than just having a couple actual bottles on the table. You'll have to insert the first wine, eject it, and then insert the second wine, giving each cartridge a solid shove to make sure it's in. That's not the smoothest maneuver to pull during a dinner party; and if you're obsessive, you might even want to clean out the bottle's neck between pours to prevent getting a splash of red in your white.

Kuvée intends to add more wines and wineries over time. Among its testers, Tekeian says, "Probably the biggest request or complaint is that there should be more wines." It intends to reach "a couple hundred wines in the long term, maybe more," and Tekeian doesn't see it being particularly challenging to get there. "Most [wineries] have been really eager to join," he says. "Big wineries are looking for other ways to package wine" and get it out to consumers. Kuvée handles the bottling — wineries just have to provide the wine.

Wine is also where Kuvée intends to make most of its money. Though it'll profit off sales of the Kuvée Bottle, what it really wants is for people to order more and more wine — since it's the only company selling compatible cartridges, fans of the format will have to go through its store. Tekeian says that a bottle purchased through Kuvée should be nearly the same price as a standard bottle of the wine purchased elsewhere. "There's no upcharge," he says.

Kuvee smart wine bottle Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Tekeian doesn't love the comparison, but there's a certain similarity between what Kuvée is doing with wine and what Keurig has done with coffee. Though it isn't selling single-serving wine pods, it is allowing for that same type of single-glass experience; and buying into the system locks customers into future purchases from Kuvée.

As strange as Kuvée's product is, the idea of wine that won't immediately go bad is compelling — even between myself and my girlfriend, we rarely get through half a bottle in a night. But I’m skeptical about some core parts of Kuvée's pitch: like, why is the high-tech bottle even necessary? With a slight change to the nozzle, it could sell wine in this format without first requiring people to purchase a $179 bottle with a touchscreen on it (a purchase that sounds slightly more palatable when you hear that it comes with four bottles of wine). There’s simply nothing about the bottle that makes it critical to Kuvée's system; you can even order more wine online. It’s not like one of Keurig’s brewing machines, which are every bit as necessary as the K-Cup itself.

Everyone wants to know what this product is (and why it exists)

Preorders for the Kuvée Bottle begin today, with shipments beginning in October. At launch, the product will only be available in two states, California and Massachusetts (California is where Kuvée bottles its wine; Boston is where Kuvée is based). It intends to expand to additional states in December, eventually reaching everywhere in the US where it's legal to ship wine. A global expansion might come later, but Kuvée seems more interested in bringing international wines back to the US first.

Everyone I’ve shown the Kuvée Bottle to has reacted with an almost morbid curiosity. It’s a compellingly odd product that everyone wants to hear about and explore. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that curiosity is only enough to get someone to pick it up off the shelf at a place like The Sharper Image, but not to actually bring it back to their kitchen. Keurig disrupted the coffee industry because it made drinking a single cup much easier; Kuvée, on the other hand, only complicates the process of drinking wine. The wine bottle isn’t in need of disruption — it’s just in need of sizes.

Photography by Amelia Krales. Video by Miriam Nielsen.

Correction: Kuvée estimates battery life of five to six hours, not five to six days.