By Drew Matich
Late last year, I was supervising the final mix of an “In Plain Sight” episode, and Jack Levy (my amazing sound supervisor and wine partner-in-crime) came bounding into the room with the latest Frontgate (read: cool-but-usually-expensive-and-mostly-unnecessary-household-gadgets) catalog. He opened to the page showing this new wine contraption, which up to this time I had only seen when I go out. Curiosity (as well as my early-adopter tendency) was killing me, but the $999 price tag was killing me more. So I waited.
Had I known that one would arrive as my first wedding gift after proposing to Sue (see my last article about my Priorat trip), I might’ve proposed sooner.
The skybar™ Wine System is a 3-chamber wine dispenser and preserver. Think of it as the love child of a Vacu Vin (on steroids) and a soda fountain. Or a hi-tech keg for wine geeks. Each of the 3 chambers holds a bottle of wine, and is independently temperature-controllable (anywhere from 45° - 68°F). At present, I have a San Gimignano Vernaccia in Chamber 1 (chilled to 52°), a Nicholas Cole “Camille” Bordeaux blend in Chamber 2 (62°), and a $10 QPR Alentejo blend from Portugal in Chamber 3 (62°). Upon uncorking and fitting of an airtight “Bottle Pour Assembly” (essentially an airtight ciphon that slides with the bottle into the mothership), the skybar creates a vacuum in the bottle and chills it to the desired temperature. The skybar website touts that a bottle can be preserved for up to 10 days. So far, I can vouch for 6 days; the first bottle I tested was a $15 Bordeaux Superiore, which mellowed very nicely over the 6 days, much as it might have had it been decanted for a few hours. By the time this bottle coughed out its last few air bubbles on day 6, there wasn’t even a trace of spoilage.
Despite all the moving parts, unboxing wasn’t a terrible headache, although the unit does weigh about 60 lbs, so do as I say (not as I do) and ask for a little help in getting it up to the counter. The only loose pieces were the 3 Bottle Pour Assemblies and 3 glass doors. Not too bad.
Installation goes like this:
- upon uncorking, install the pouring assembly onto the bottle and insert into the desired wine chamber;
- set to the desired temperature using the LCD keypad at the bottom of the unit, either by choosing one of the 9 temperature presets (by varietal) OR by choosing a specific temperature;
- An LED below each chamber will illuminate, indicating that the chamber has cooled to the programmed temperature; and
- Pour. Drink. Repeat. Watch the video.
And let’s talk about the looks…it’s a modern, sleek assembly, black wood-frame construction (also available with a dark mahogany finish, according to the specialist I talked with today), brushed chrome, and straight lines. It’s bulky, but if you have 24” of clearance between your kitchen cabinets and the counter, you’re golden. And it’s also handsome enough to serve as a living room or den set piece. And it even sports mood lighting...the 3 chambers light up from the inside at the touch of a button. You should know that it is a little noisy…not as loud as your fridge, but it will add a bit of that Star Trek-TNG-Enterprise hum to the room. If you’re like me, the very idea that the hum is actually preserving a fine wine for several days will actually help you sleep at night.
About 10 days after the initial setup, the LED lights that confirm the desired chilling temperature ceased to function. First in the two outside chambers, then in the center. Customer Service was exemplary on this score.
After a few minutes of troubleshooting, they approved the replacement of the unit with a new one. Cool. But here is where the experience started to unravel: they didn’t (and as of this writing, still don’t) allow for cross-shipping of a new unit, so I would have to wait for them to ship an empty container to send back the old unit, then wait for them to receive it before they shipped the new one. After about 10 days, they informed me (only after I called them to ask about the container’s whereabouts) that the boxes were “on backorder”. Oy. When I asked them if they would send me a box with a replacement unit in it, they still refused (until they received the defective unit). Oy Oy.
This was the point when I did a little more reasearch on the company and found out that the skybar brand falls under the umbrella of Jarden Corporation, who also owns such ubiquitous brands as Sunbeam, Oster, Mr. Coffee, VillaWare, Rival, and numerous others. And apparently, Jarden is stuck in the mud of its own corporate-ness when it comes to serving the customer in times of need. Rules are rules, apparently. And they’re not good ones. They’re also missing a golden opportunity to make themselves more known to an expanding universe of wine enthusiasts via social media.
As of now, they couldn’t be more absent. This is not a knock on the front line people I spoke with (all of whom were courteous enough), but at a $999 price point, they need to actually care, as opposed to just acting like they care when you talk to them on the phone. I finally received the new unit last Wednesday (9/30), over a MONTH after my initial contact with them. Not acceptable in this day, age, and economy, where companies like Amazon.com routinely surprise me with great (if sometimes outsourced) customer service at just about every turn. But after almost a week, the new unit is working well.
The skybar is definitely a luxury item at $999, and maybe a bit overpriced for what it does, especially given the customer service experience when the first unit went wrong. But it’s a sharp addition to the quiver for any wine lover who wants to sip from the same bottle over a few days.