We All Had the Rabbit Corkscrew

The bulky, extraordinarily expensive cork extractor symbolized a moment in wine culture not easily forgotten.

I’m old enough to remember using, and enjoying, Mr. Microphone, a device that could turn any radio into a PA system, and the Pocket Fisherman, which, as its name suggests, was a very small (and surprisingly functional) fishing rod. These were two signature products of Ronco, the legendary “As Seen on TV” mail order company whose ’70s-era infomercials also brought us GLH-9, aka Hair in a Can (never tried). The Rabbit Corkscrew is wine’s best equivalent of a Ronco product: You don’t need it, and yet you find yourself owning it.

The Rabbit, which, yes, shares its name with a vibrator made popular by an episode of Sex and the City, is designed to reduce one’s total cork-extraction time to three seconds (there’s a joke in there somewhere) for a cool $50. I cannot envision a universe in which this is possible. For one thing, it’s large and rather involved, arriving in its own little box, basically requiring a kitchen drawer all its own. Though handsome and muscular, it also looks like some kind of plumbing tool; it has a pliers-like grip meant to wrap around the neck of a wine bottle, holding it steady while you plunge, rather than screw, the metal “worm” into the cork using a lever. (This is only after you’ve removed the bottle’s foil using a separate cutter.)

As a sommelier, I’ve opened thousands of bottles using the good old-fashioned “waiter’s corkscrew,” and frankly, I simply cannot see why further technological enhancement is needed. When I first saw the Rabbit many years ago, my first thought was, Dude, take it easy. Opening a wine bottle is maybe 1.5 times more difficult than fastening your seat belt on an airplane, but you’ve got to unpack your little box to get the fancy corkscrew out, like you’re handcuffed to a briefcase full of diamonds? If you can do that all in three seconds, you’re a better man than I.

As fate would have it, a professional wine salesperson recently broke out her metallic-blue Rabbit to open a handful of samples she had brought me. What ensued was a comic display of incompetence worthy of an infomercial lead-in. For her—and for many—the Rabbit only complicated the task it was meant to simplify. But maybe that’s the point. Really, the Rabbit is more a signifier than a simplifier. According to the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), a Texan who also held oil-drilling patents invented the Rabbit in the early 1980s, which is perfect; it’s big, expensive, unnecessary—the obvious child of that era. It’s the kind of accoutrement meant to indicate status and arrival, but ends up projecting a whiff of nouveau riche insecurity.

I once received one as a gift—no doubt its primary raison d’être—but I could never bring myself to use it. I’m not strapping that oil rig to my bottle. Yes, it might be harsh and/or snobbish to dog the thing, but we’ve evolved as a wine culture. Now, there are other enological novelties to signify one’s status: the nonprofessional’s taking and passing of sommelier exams; vacations to wine-growing regions; staging in vineyards and wineries.

Now, wealth is no longer the only passport to the “best” wine. The countercultural movement of natural wine has seized the zeitgeist, turning the conversation toward low-intervention methods and indie makers working on shoestring budgets. The new arbiters of taste are predisposed to hate expensive gadgetry. Authenticity is the real wine currency now, and the only question anyone should be asking about the Rabbit is, “Is it recyclable?”

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David Lynch is a sommelier, author and the Editorial Director of Sommselect.com