Offering wines on tap is one of the hottest food-and-beverage trends right now, and many restaurants and bars are expanding their wine programs with on-tap offerings in a variety of ways. Because technology is always advancing, adding wine-on-tap is a possibility for older, existing restaurants, and even more convenient for brand-new establishments. Learn about this innovative trend and discover whether it’s right for you and your restaurant.
What is Wine-on-Tap?
Taking a page from the book of beer and ale, wine-on-tap is an untraditional distribution method for wine that makes sense and is catching on. Instead of wine that is offered in a bottle, the wine is stored in stainless-steel (reusable) kegs or disposable kegs. Ordinarily, after the barreling stage of wine production, the wine is bottled; however, in the case of wine-on-tap, the wine is transferred into kegs, each of which holds about 27 bottles’ worth of wine, or the equivalent of about 130 glasses of wine.
Benefits of Wine-on-Tap
The wine-on-tap trend has caught on like wildfire to the extent that there is now a dedicated website called Try Wine-on-Tap, that is an excellent source of information about this trendy topic. The website explains why restaurateurs are eager to try wine-on-tap and what the benefits are. For instance, the site says, this method of distribution guarantees the freshness of the wine, as you never have to worry about an open bottle losing its flavor or its quality. Wine that is housed in a keg stays fresh, as there is no danger of oxidation and spoilage.
Wine-on-tap is also a money saver as well, because you will be wasting less wine and, therefore, less money. Wine-on-tap is also a time saver, as there are no bottles to recycle or to throw out. You will also be saving time at the service end of the business, as you and your wait staff will no longer be involved in opening bottles and pulling corks; in contrast, pulling a tap is quick and easy.
Finally, there are environmental benefits to using wine-on-tap, including a big reduction in carbon footprint compared to wine poured from bottles. Because a stainless-steel keg is reusable, it spares landfills from tons of trash over the course of its lifetime.
History of Wine-on-Tap
In an article entitled, “Making the Case for Wine-on-Tap,” the Wine Enthusiast claims that this trend is a “growing force.” According to the site, restaurants and bars in the United States started to put wine in stainless steel cylinders as long as 30 years ago, although back then it was the lowest-quality wine at the lowest prices. However, in 2010, the Gotham Project was launched and it changed the face of the wine-on-tap business. As the folks at the Gotham Project say, they didn’t invent wine-on-tap, but they are the people who “pioneered and set the 21st century standards for high-quality, soulful wines on tap in 100% stainless steel kegs.”
Another company that helped launch the wine-on-tap trend is Free Flow, which has more than 250 wine brands in kegs from wineries in North America, South America, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. As the company’s website says, its goal is “to deliver the freshest, best tasting, most sustainable glass of wine…” and its service allows “the wine and hospitality industries to move to a greener, fresher, better way to serve wine by the glass.”
Why Wine-on-Tap Is Great
At its best, wine-on-tap is fresh and bright, and it can be enjoyed in the same state as when it was first kegged. Wines intended for early consumption, within one or two years, are best suited for the wine-on-tap format. This type of “youthful” wine accounts for 75% of all wine sales today, which is helping to fuel the trend. Stainless steel kegs provide a completely static and “inert” environment, which stops the wine’s aging process; this too is perfect for the younger, brighter wines that are popular at the moment.
But consistent quality and freshness aren’t the only selling points of wine-on-tap: sustainability is another huge advantage. As the Free Flow website says, aside from maintaining better wine quality, wine-on-tap in stainless steel kegs reduces the cost of traditional bottle packaging and transportation. It eliminates wine’s usual trappings (bottles, corks, labels, and cases), which in turn lowers the carbon footprint of the wine and hospitality industries. So, if a standard keg (which can be reused dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times) replaces almost 27 bottles of wine, the need for those packaging materials is reduced, too. As far as the logistics of the kegs themselves, they’re returned, washed, refilled, or recycled.
Many wine-on-tap systems are available today, and the variety allows for customization to meet a restaurant’s specific needs and character. Some establishments offer only one top-level premium wine-on-tap to provide customers access to an otherwise out-of-reach bottle of wine. Others offer a list of 10 wine-on-tap options available from one region that aligns with the restaurant’s concept and niche. Still others dedicate space for dozens of wine-on-tap options in a self-service format that creates a unique experience for customers.
At Reserve Wine & Food in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, there is a wall of over 100 wine-on-tap options along the back of the restaurant’s dining room and, says Peter Marantette, general manager and sommelier, it is the restaurants focal point. “People are fascinated by it and attracted to it. It’s something you really notice, and it’s like a piece of art.” The restaurant selected this system because it offers variety and a unique experience to guests. “We wanted to offer one of the largest selections of wine-on-tap in the country,” Marantette adds. “It allows us to offer a wider price point and more variety by the glass. Our wine-on-tap ranges from $8 to more than $60 a glass.”
Morris Taradalsky, co-founder of Napa Technology in Campbell, California, says his company applies cutting-edge Silicon Valley technology to serving wine-on-tap. The company’s signature product, WineStation, is an automated, temperature-controlled wine dispensing and preservation system which is “customizable according to whether a restaurant wants to offer wines on tap, customer self-service, or staff service, and it can be used with bottles or kegs of wine.” The system, he says, offers a “just-opened taste experience,” since wine is preserved for up to 60 days once opened. This allows operators to offer higher-end wines because they aren’t afraid to open a more-expensive bottle, and have it go to waste. The system also allows the restaurant to hook up bottles to the tap, which he says, customers like as they prefer seeing the bottle instead of just a keg.
Restaurants that are not interested in investing in special equipment can opt to hook up kegs of wine to the existing beer-keg system. Using an existing system and tailoring it to serve wine-on-tap, means that a restaurant can offer higher-quality wines at affordable prices. However, converting a beer tap to a tap that can push wine is not as straightforward as it may sound. The big issue with wine-on-tap is the gas, says one bartender; you can’t push wine with CO2 like with regular beer taps. Therefore, when converting the beer tap to serve wine, it’s recommended to add a toggle switch to control the amount of gas pushing the wine.
Another delivery option involves connecting wine bottles (not kegs) to the tap system, each bottle with its own handle. With this type of system, bottles of wine are stocked at the bar, so they can quickly and easily be replenished. It operates like a beer tap with a handle that uses pressure from nitrogen to pour the wine. The tanks of nitrogen are connected via a series of pipes, and restaurants have to maintain a regular cleaning schedule for the lines that are connected to the bottles.
Challenges to the Wine-on-Tap Movement
Because it is a relatively new trend, the biggest challenge to a restaurant that is considering adding wine-on-tap is the cost of the equipment. Until now, operators that want to install a wine-on-tap system have had to make a hefty capital investment; however, some companies offer a monthly leasing plan to ease startup costs, which, they hope, will help grow the number of wine taps in the restaurant and bar industry. In addition, it can be expensive to retrofit an existing space; however, in that case, as well, the long-term payback often makes the investment worthwhile.
Until recently, diners who wanted wine with their meal usually had to buy an entire bottle of wine with dinner; now, however, the wine-on-tap trend gives customers the chance to sample something they never thought they’d have the chance to try. Wines on tap allow restaurants to keep prices competitive, to give customers great value, to adopt a “greener” approach, and to manage inventory and storage space more effectively. As Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards, says, “Wine-on-tap is not a fad. It is not a trend. It is part of the broader mandate of sustainability that defines the age in which we live.”