Silvertap Wines, located in our very own San Francisco and Sonoma, has been a pioneering force in the industry to get wine on tap moving in the United States. When I see wine on tap in any restaurant or bar, I generally see a Silvertap wine on the menu. Read a little more about their take on where wine on tap is heading below.
Tap dancing (excerpt from It Takes Two, April 2011)
Another fast-growing wine marketing trend in America is the move to wines on tap in restaurants, foregoing the traditional bottle. On the forefront of the revolution is Silvertap Wines of Sonoma, which markets premium wines exclusively in five-gallon barrels.
“It’s really not a new idea,” says Greg Quinn, one of the founders and the managing partner in charge of operations for Silvertap. “Wine on tap has been in Europe for hundreds of years. People keep their jugs at home and go get their wine straight from the barrel. It takes the bottle out of the middle of the equation and promotes a communal feel.”
The name Silvertap was selected because “the concept straddles the line between the beer industry and the wine industry, and ‘Silvertap’ expresses both,” Quinn explains. He notes that Anheuser Busch actually tried to promote wine from taps in the 1970s, but “used a wine of questionable character at a time when people weren’t big wine consumers,” so the experiment failed.
Quinn’s personal experience in the restaurant business, which spans 18 years, led him to the idea for Silvertap.
“Serving wine by the glass out of a bottle isn’t efficient. The bottle sits open and the wine is compromised. Plus, there’s corked wine and bottle variation,” he says. And then there are all the wine bottles, which create trash problems and are “effectively worthless.”
Looking for a greener alternative, Quinn, who was managing Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro in San Francisco at the time, contacted his friend Dan Donahoe, whose family owned Teira Wines in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.
“I told him I wanted to get wine in a keg and serve it in a new way. He thought I was out of my mind. Then a couple of weeks later, a gentleman from Georgia named Todd Rushing, who had served 42 wines on tap for more than six years at his restaurant Two Urban Licks, reached out to Dan and asked if he could send kegs for Teira Winery to fill and return to him. So it was the second time he’d heard the idea in two weeks,” Quinn laughs. “Then Dan spoke with Jordan Kivelstadt, a winemaker who’d been in Argentina and had seen wine on tap. That was it. Having heard it three times within a month, Dan warmed to the keg concept. A few months later, Dan, Jordan and I founded Silvertap.”
Silvertap’s portfolio currently consists of Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, crafted from fruit grown in sustainably farmed vineyards in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley appellations. The wine is made at Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg under the watchful eye of consulting winemaker Bill Knuttel. Once finished, the wine is transported to Silvertap’s Winery on Stage Gulch Road in Sonoma, where it’s stored and then put into kegs as orders flow in.
Wine on tap “works just like the beer industry,” Quinn says, except the kegs are typically smaller (five gallons). The wine also flows through a different type of line that uses nitrogen gas rather than carbon dioxide. “Other than that, every part of the system is the same as if you were serving beer on tap,” he explains.
Silvertap sees itself not only as a wine supplier to restaurants, but also a partner in helping eating establishments increase profit margins while reducing their carbon footprint. They now have clients in 19 states and are gaining traction in top hotel chains, including Kimpton and Starwood properties.
Annual production is currently between 8,000 to 10,000 kegs. Each keg holds the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine. Quinn estimates a restaurant will save approximately $2.50 on each “bottle” of wine in the keg. There’s no packaging, no heavy shipping fees and a lower distributor markup. Right now, Silvertap is partnering solely with restaurants but is looking into possibly producing smaller kegs for retail sale.
Quinn says tap wines have been warmly received, except for a few “traditionalists and sticklers” they’ve run across. “I’ve always hated the snootiness of wine, and the attitude of people who are against tap wine is more for snob reasons. There’s not a lot of merit to it.
“The bottom line is, people should have wine on the table, and people can’t afford expensive wine all the time,” Quinn says. Silvertap is delivering a top-quality wine at a lesser price, “and it’s really turning lots of people on. We see folks ordering a second carafe of wine more often than we see people buying a second bottle of wine.”
In the end, that’s what it’s all about. The more wine sells, the more strategic marketing partnerships make sense—and cents.