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. About the size of a large espresso machine, the latest in-room luxury preserves two opened bottles of wine for weeks at the perfect serving temperature and allows you to draw off a glass with one touch.
When it debuted as the new "essential" home wine appliance last fall at US$1499.00 ($2063), 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 first hotel to capitalise on the Plum's in-room potential was the Four Seasons in Silicon Valley, where the pace is fast and the clientele savours the latest high-tech amenities. General Manager Florian Riedel says its suites feature the Plum, and all rooms will have them by the end of 2018. The sleek, brushed-stainless cube sits nicely on a sideboard, taking up very little space for the pleasure it brings.
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.
"I initially created Plum to solve my own problem - I wanted the perfect glass of wine at a touch when I got home," Koretz said in an email. "But I quickly realised that the hotel guest experience was far worse." And he saw the market: the world's 4 million or so luxury hotel rooms.
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 (US$5.25 for a 2-ounce glass; 5 oz. for US$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 US$14. The Evesham Wood pinot is spicy and perfumed, a decent bottle at US$26. Still, it's instant gratification-and for guests in the Penthouse and Miranda suites, unlimited glasses will be free during stays until April 30.
The Four Seasons Silicon Valley wines are a step up in quality and price. Both are Napa stars: bright, elegant Newton Unfiltered chardonnay (US$40 retail) and vibrant, distinctive Chappellet cabernet sauvignon ($60 retail), with per-glass Plum prices ranging from US$14 to $18.
Rosewood Sand Hill offers two equally compelling Napa wines: the creamy, lush 2016 Far Niente chardonnay (US$55 retail) and the plummy, savoury 2013 Groth cabernet sauvignon (US$52 retail). Choices will typically change every three months or so.
But since it's so easy to swap out wine bottles in the Plum, these standard-level wines don't have to be your only choices. Florian Riedel explains, "When guests stay frequently, we usually know about their wine preferences and can choose something to surprise them." Nice. For an additional charge, you can let the hotel know what you want to drink while you're in residence. Very nice!
Many hotels may follow suit. Hotel 2020: The Personalisation Paradox, a report published 18 months ago by IBM Global Business Services, said personalising a guest's experience is what will help the industry survive in the face of existential threats such as Airbnb.
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. It also fits neatly into the current tech-savvy hotel room trend.
"Technology," Koretz says, "is forcing hoteliers to rethink what service means in an era where they may never interact with the guest in person."
So far the Plum's biggest problem is awareness. As guests checked out at the Four Seasons, some were asked why they hadn't tried a glass of wine from the machine. They replied that they had thought it was an air purifier.