The utility of Angela Carnoske’s cheekily-named KINK(Y) Wine Rubber is evidenced in the first two minutes that we meet. We are at Wine-O on Duval Street, the perfect setting to talk all things grape-related, and our server can hardly get the cork out of a bottle. In her defense, the cork had become brittle and nearly impossible to remove. Angela handed her the small, sunflower-shaped silicone wine tool and—voila!—the cork was out, and intact.
The invention is pretty, practical and unassuming. But I wondered: why a “wine rubber,” rather than a more traditional corking device?
“I had a dream about it, honestly, but I don’t want to sound like a crazy person,” says Carnoske. She doesn’t sound crazy. She sounds focused and resolute when she talks about the journey, which was also a literal one. Recovering from serious lung surgery, Carnoske was told that the resultant scar tissue would restrict her movement, meaning she would no longer be able to endure the long hours on foot required in the service industry — the industry to which she had committed most of her life. Instead of taking it easy, Carnoske decided to take a walk. A very long walk.
She embarked on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that spans some 500 miles across Northern Spain. While there, she also visited Spanish wine country, giving her the time and inspiration to consider how she would spend the rest of her life, if not working in the bar and restaurant world.
“During the whole Spain trip, I thought: What am I going to do with my life? I knew I couldn’t physically work that hard, and I thought of something in my industry that I love: something wine-related,” she said. “And I meditated on that.”
Carnoske eventually founded Vinum Dea (“Wine Goddess”), a company under which she is launching KINK(Y) Wine Rubbers and, she promises, more inventions to come. Carnoske has ready inspiration: she can be found behind the bar several nights a week at Uva Wine Bar, has her level 1 sommelier certification and teaches classes through Wineology Key West. She’s loved teaching and seeing how wine knowledge empowers people in the dining world.
“It’s great when you can order something with a little education behind it, not just the first thing that you recognize. A friend of mine who had taken my wine class once called me from the bathroom and thanked me for teaching her, because her husband’s boss had given her the wine list to order for them at dinner, and she ordered for the table … well, like a boss!”
As an extension of her own ongoing education, Carnoske began to investigate where there were needs in the wine world. She said that she noticed pump seals often leak and wine-lovers at home don’t necessarily want to spring for a cordovan.
So, she had the idea (or dream) of the wine rubber: something flexible and lightweight, affordable and attractive that one could place under the cork and create an airtight seal. She established her LLC almost exactly two years ago. The only trouble was: she had to make the thing.
“People have great ideas all the time,” Carnoske said, “and then they don’t have the courage to follow through.” She decided not to be one of those people. “Since then, it’s been two years of tedious work: learning how to pour and mix silicone in my house. I would get home from work and get on YouTube and look at how to mix clay, and I ordered a vacuum pump.”
Carnoske credits the ability to allow the right things and people to come her way with her project’s acceleration.
“Every step of the way, someone that has knowledge has come across my path.” First, at her job at Latitudes, she mentioned the project to a co-worker, who turned out to be experienced with latex and silicone, making masks for Fantasy Fest. He came over and helped her make her first one. Once she had created the sunflower-shaped prototype — inspired by the beauty of the Spanish countryside—the wine rubber was on its way.
Not long after, an inventor at Procter and Gamble came across her path, encouraged her invention and set her up with a patent attorney. Further along the way, she realized that she couldn’t make them by hand and would need molds. Visiting a friend in Denver, she walked into a 3D printing store and “fell in love with the staff. They were so sweet and knew exactly what I needed.” They created the mold for her and enabled her to make perfectly symmetrical KINK(Y) wine rubbers.
She met another customer at the shop who was able to help her make the connection with a manufacturer. His company acts as a middleman between companies and manufacturers in China.
“I had to go that route,” she said, “because U.S. manufacturers wouldn’t touch the project if it was less than 250,000 units, and for me as a startup, that was impossible.” She said the manufacturer took her on in “good faith.” “My first order is 10,000 units, and they are in two-packs, so I’ll be selling 5,000 packs.”
She is fulfilling orders through Amazon and selling them locally at Uva Wine Shop, the Roost and Salt Gallery. The rubbers don’t just work to remove corks and function as seals: they are also handy coasters that don’t stick to a cold drink and can hang from the top of a bottle by the ring in their container. They come in two colors, light and dark blue, which Carnoske said reminds her of the Keys water.
“They’ll also say: ‘Designed in Key West.’”
They’re certainly useful. But why KINK(Y)? “Because you’re putting a kink in your wine and waiting for later,” she says. Others have had more mischievous ideas for the invention.
“Okay,” she laughs, “they kind of look like nipple covers. If all else fails, they will be on sale at Fantasy Fest!”
They might just serve as the best of both worlds. Carnoske is launching her invention on Tuesday, Aug. 6, locally, when she’ll have KINK(Y) wine rubbers at a discount (normally $12.99 for a two pack; there, two for $20), and she’s not done innovating for the wine world.
“I will have other inventions coming from Vinum Dea,” she promises.
We’ll keep up our end of the bargain too — and keep drinking wine.
Tuesday, August 6
KINK(Y) Wine Rubber Launch Party
2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Hank’s Hair of the Dog