Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Now it can be told: Device I skewered for home use turns out to have different market

The face of the Plum
In October I wrote a story for Wine Searcher headlined, "Unnecessary Wine Appliance Seduces Media" about a seemingly silly $1500 device called the Plum that would serve you individual glasses of wine from two bottles. It's a snarky takedown that I thought the device richly deserved, even though Forbes and the Robb Report had gushed about it for home use.

David Koretz, president of the company that makes the Plum, asked to meet me in person after reading the story and complaining about it in the comments. I'm an old-school journalist at heart who believes you should stand behind your work, but I insisted on meeting in a public place and telling friends where I was going. I was not planning to offer to make any changes to the story, so I expected to be harangued for a while and eventually to say, "I've got an appointment" and back away.

Instead, we spoke for 90 minutes, but the conversation was embargoed until this morning, when Plum finally released its real business plan.

It turns out that the Plum's primary market was never home users. Instead, it's designed for high-end guests in hotels, and for that, it makes sense.

 What the Plum does is hold two bottles of wine at serving temperature, which can be different for reds and whites. You press a button and it dispenses a glass of wine. It uses a Coravin-like system to pierce the bottle with a needle and refill it with argon gas after extracting the wine, slowing down oxidation.

For home consumers, $1500 is a lot for these moderate advantages. But for luxury hotels, it's a reasonable investment. Put a Plum in the penthouse suite and guests can have a single glass of nice wine when they check in, instead of a 180 ml minibar bottle of the kind of wine that comes in 180 ml minibar bottles.

I didn't understand the point of its "integrated wifi and Web application" for home users. ("Alexa, can you pour me a glass of Cabernet?") But for luxury hotels it makes all kinds of sense. Not only can hotels instantly monitor (and charge for) the amount of wine a guest drinks; a clerk can push a button at the front desk and mollify a whiny guest with a free glass or two.

Most of us have never been in the kind of high-end hotel rooms where the Plum will best fit, but there are thousands of them in the US. Koretz told me hoteliers currently often give a free bottle of wine as a perk to their VIPs, and it can't be cheap wine either, because people who can afford a $1000 a night room look down their noses at a free bottle of $20 wine. Now, instead of giving away $50 wines, they can give away single glasses of a $50 wine.

I wish I had had the imagination to see this potential usage when I first wrote the story. But I don't feel that stupid.

Koretz said the reason that he released the device for the home market first was so that luxury hotels, who he was already talking to, would see some buzz about it. And sure enough they did, as most of the media outlets that wrote about the Plum uncritically raved about it, even though Koretz said he didn't discuss the possibility of hotel usage with any of them (nor did I see it covered that way.)

So mea culpa to the Plum. Part of the headline (which I did not write, but fully support) was wrong: The wine appliance is not completely "Unnecessary." As for the rest of the headline, well, go read the original story.

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