Tap It

The SOMM Journal, June-July 2014

During my almost 11-year tenure as Adjunct Instructor at the CIA’s Rudd Center for Professional Development in Napa Valley, I witnessed the birth of wine on tap. Wine Director Traci Dutton was an early adapter, offering a local Sauvignon Blanc on tap at $5 a glass. She was thrilled to pass along cost savings to her guests at the Greystone Restaurant. The same wine bottled sold for $8 to $9 per glass. Today, cost savings have all but vanished. The message is all about being green, clean, and efficient.

Chris Dearden, owner/winemaker of Dearden Wines, says, “From a winemaker’s standpoint, we love wine on tap as it provides a delicious glass of wine we get to the consumer in an extremely ‘green’ package. There is nothing to cause TCA or other off flavors, and it appeals to a broader and younger demographic which we are really trying to attract. Both coasts are embracing this format now, and as usual, it should pervade to the Midwest soon. I currently provide wines to New York, Maryland and California, and am working on Florida, which has just legalized kegged wines to be sold in that market.”

Jess Voss, owner of Jamber Wine Pub in San Francisco, adds, “I chose to do wine on tap because it makes so much sense for restaurants: having the benefit of a lower cost of waste from not having to throw away oxidized wine [serving wine by the glass means the wine can go bad before the whole bottle is sold]. It reduces our carbon footprint by eliminating bottles, corks and labels. Wine on tap makes life a lot easier for inventory and ordering; instead of having to keep track and store numerous bottles, we have 24 kegs.”

Dan Donahoe, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer of Free Flow Wines in Napa Valley, a large provider of wine in traditional metal kegs says, “Premium wine on tap as a category has exploded with growth over just the last 24 months. As more and more high-quality, respected wineries make their fine wines available in keg format across the US, the concept has been proven to work and offer operators and their customers a better glass of wine, every time.”

Metal kegs have to be returned, washed and refilled, adding cost and eating away at carbon footprint savings. Between this and the current drought in California, some producers are switching to “one ways,” such as the TORR Keg with a disposable bladder bag similar to those found in bag in box containers.

Wine on tap is not for everyone. An establishment must have volume and be able to “lock in” their selections until the kegs are empty. And they don’t translate as well into the more formal dining rooms. A small high-end restaurant wine buyer needs the flexibility and convenience of ordering wines by the bottle. Producers and buyers agree. Keg wine is here to stay. For freshness and convenience, wine on tap is a cutting-edge solution.

by Catherine Fallis, MS