Made in FLA: Corkcicle
An Orlando wine-lover’s chilling discovery launches a hot business: keeping drinks cold
A chilled glass of wine on a sunny Florida afternoon may be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Just be sure to sip quickly; during summer’s triple-digit temperatures, that refreshing rosé can turn from tasty to tepid in a hot second.
Orlando entrepreneur and wine-lover Ben Hewitt had been battling this problem for years when, in 2010, he decided to experiment with a solution. Finding it cumbersome to use ice buckets, he wondered why no one had tried putting something inside the bottle to keep it cold?
Working out of his garage, Hewitt started by cutting open a freezer pack and squeezing the contents into a long plastic test tube. After gluing a cork to the top of this makeshift chiller and freezing it, he popped the tube into an open bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and waited.
“I had fun testing it—and it worked,” Hewitt says. This rudimentary prototype kept the bottle cold for about an hour—long enough for an al fresco dinner.
Over the next few weeks, Hewitt shared his idea with two pals: Stephen Bruner, a marketing whiz with whom he had worked before, and Eric Miller, a sales manager for a medical technology firm. Both friends were immediately sold on the concept and agreed to partner with Hewitt. Bruner even called him later that evening with a thought: The name should combine the words “cork” and “icicle.” That night, the Corkcicle brand was born.
In 2011, with a more refined prototype in hand, the partners scheduled a meeting with Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits to gauge interest in the product. To their delight, the retailer placed an order that same day.
“That was the proof of concept we needed from people in the industry,” Hewitt says.
Corkcicle’s success quickly snowballed as the wine chiller debuted at several national trade shows, eventually selling 300,000 units that year. Corkcicle was also named the best new tabletop product at the 2011 New York International Gift Fair; the following year, sales spiked following a mention on Oprah’s “Favorite Things” gift list.
As sales grew, the company broadened its product lines to include beer chillers, canteens, whiskey glasses, tumblers and water bottles—each with a very buzz-worthy design.
“Every year we try to launch one or two things that the market has never seen before,” Hewitt says.
Although Corkcicle products are sold online and through independent and specialty retailers around the world, the Florida lifestyle continues to inspire its designs. The canteen, for instance, was created with boaters in mind.
“The last thing you want to do is take a glass bottle of wine onto a boat,” Hewitt says of the versatile container. “They roll around, and everyone is barefoot. If a bottle falls and breaks, you’ve got a problem.”
For this reason, the company designed its canteen to have flat sides, preventing rolling, and to taper at the bottom, allowing it to fit most cup holders. Offered in tropical hues as bright as a row of Key West cottages, the canteen looks as cool as it keeps its contents.
Corkcicle currently employees 23 people, 19 of whom are in its O-town headquarters, where the company’s main operations—including design, marketing and sales—are based. As the business continues to grow, Hewitt says Corkcicle’s reputation for innovation, combined with Central Florida’s laidback lifestyle and favorable cost of living, makes it relatively easy to attract talent from all over the country.
“Orlando is a beautiful place to live. People are extremely nice,” he says. “And we have amazing attractions for our kids to visit.”