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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:00 am

Wine appliance finds a home in hotels

Elin McCoy | Bloomberg

The situation: You key in to your hotel room after a stressful business meeting. All you want is an immediate glass of wine to drink while watching the evening news.

The problem: You don't want to open the full bottle of ludicrously overpriced plonk in the minibar. Room service will take 45 minutes to bring you a Saran-wrapped glass filled with Champagne that's too warm.

A growing number of hotels have found a solution to this widespread dilemma: the Plum machine. The latest in-room luxury preserves two opened bottles of wine for weeks at the perfect serving temperature and allows you to get a glass with one touch.

When it debuted as the new “essential” home wine appliance last fall, I admit I was unmoved. Owning one made sense only if you take days to finish off a bottle of vino or hate to open bottles yourself.

But now a great use case has really revealed itself: For hotel guests, the Plum is a godsend, even if you have to pay for each glass you drink. And a touchscreen provides lots of information on the wine, tasting notes, and even a virtual tour of the winery, if you want. Take that, Alexa!

The mastermind behind the Plum, tech entrepreneur David Koretz, admits he started working with hotels two years before the device officially launched. He enlisted engineers from Google, Amazon's Lab 126 and Motorola to develop the technology. It uses double-cored needles to pierce the bottles' corks and then injects argon gas to preserve the wine.

So far, he's made nearly a dozen deals in the U.S., including Miami Beach's La Confidante, the Hyatt Unbound Collection and the Rosewood Sand Hill near Palo Alto, California, which rolled out its Plum program last month. This spring there will be more, such as San Francisco's the Clift and the Dallas Park Cities Hilton. Future brands include the St. Regis and the Waldorf Astoria. International expansion is a given.

What guests most appreciate, says La Confidante general manager Keith Butz, is “the convenience.”

For oenophiles, a key question is what wines the machines contain. Do they beat out the usual minibar fare?

Well, pretty much. At La Confidante, the Plum in every room dispenses Evesham Wood Pinot Noir from Oregon ($5.25 for a 2-ounce glass; 5 ounces for $16) and Justin Sauvignon Blanc ($4; $12) from Paso Robles. While these are attractive, well-chosen wines, they're hardly special. In retail shops, the crisp, citrusy sauvignon blanc costs a mere $14. The Evesham Wood pinot is spicy and perfumed, a decent bottle at $26. Still, it's instant gratification.

And the Plum seems perfectly timed, as the minibar has become a flop for many hotels. From 2007 to 2012, according to PKF Hospitality Research Inc., hotel revenue from minibars dropped 28 percent. Insane prices for poor quality is the reason many shun the wines. Minibars are a hassle for hotels, too: Employing people to check and restock them daily is very expensive.

The Plum automatically keeps track of how many glasses you drink, adds the cost to your hotel bill, and even notifies management when it's time to replace the bottles.