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Like the 1950′s milkman who would bring your fresh milk in glass bottles and pick up your empties, wine on tap has the potential to fill the same classic role. Bring your reusable carafe to a wine on tap market, get a refill, and walk away with your dinner wine—foregoing the packaging cost and getting a little extra decanting perk as you make your way home. A sustainable, local, and idyllic model that connects us a little closer to “slow food” and a little farther from mass consumerism, right? Unfortunately, wrong. It’s generally illegal.
That is why bar owners like Joe Barbera of AIDA Bistro and Wine Bar in Columbia, Maryland are pushing legislation to break through the bureaucratic red tape of alcohol distribution laws to allow for new approaches to wine sales. Barbera is lobbying for a law to be passed in Howard County to allow for wine on tap to be taken “to go.”
Most state laws prohibit the sale of reusable carafes or containers because it resembles bottling an alcoholic beverage, which requires a special license. This law, along with a plethora of other liquor laws, is preventing the wine industry from thriving to its potential. While many of the liquor laws are in place to prevent unsafe or underage drinking, the argument stands that majority of liquor laws today are archaic and still aligned with the Prohibition era.
Selling wine online is one such example. When the power of the Internet couldn’t be stronger, most e-wine retailers fail because of highly regulated laws and taxes, requiring permits in each and every state where wine is shipped. Another is the three-tiered alcohol distribution requirement where producers must go through a distributor before the wine hits the retail market. “Bottleneck” is an understatement when describing this system and what it is doing to wine producers’ revenue streams.
Some successes have been had, though, and wine is winning most especially when it comes to direct shipping. Many states have passed legislation to overtun the three-tiered distribution stream and allow wineries to ship directly from their winery to the consumer. (Wine clubs, anyone?) Lawmakers are starting to clearly understand how vital direct sales are to wineries and the community network surrounding them. Retailers, on the other hand, are still in a tough spot.
We hope one day wine can be as freely traded as it deserves. Joe Barbera and sites like “Free the Grapes,” a site dedicated to breaking down wine sales restrictions, are guiding forces in the David and Goliath battle. You can learn more about Joe Barbera’s efforts in Howard County in the Baltimore Sun’s recent article.
Until then, fight on, Mr. Barbera. We’ll be the first to sign your petition and stand in line to take home the very first carafe of wine on tap to go.
As wine on tap spreads rapidly throughout the country, it is still doing so largely by the grassroots. Entrepreneurial minds are recognizing its benefits and taking great leaps of faith to make the commitment— a commitment to the environment, to their businesses, and to their communities.
Wine bars like Santé in Asheville, North Carolina are doing just that. Santé owner Carla Baden recently invested $10,000 in her 12-tap wine on tap system, the very first of its kind in North Carolina. Doing whatever it takes to be at the forefront of how wine is being served and where it’s going is her inspiration for the switch and why she’s now leading the charge in her state. Plus, she feels as if she is doing a little more for the greater good. (We couldn’t agree more.)
Setting precedent, breaking barriers, building bridges— whatever the colloquial, it’s what it’s all about. Read more about Baden’s debut in North Carolina in Mountain Xpress’ recent article.
We swirled our glasses through the San Francisco Vintners Market in October- a little lazily, a little indifferently- and not too impressed with the selection of local offerings. Our taste buds perked a little when we came across the chocolate truffle booth. (Snore.) Our buds finally got a treat, however, when we stumbled upon the20- a new wine on tap pioneer providing wines in custom casks.
The20 is offering classic bag-in-box wine technology with some seriously innovative upgrades. First and most importantly, they’re tapping wines carefully selected to give the quality you’d expect from any premium wine in the bottle. We tried the Jubilation Zinfandel, the Darkhorse Pinot Noir, the Unrequited Sauvignon Blanc, and the DeNovo Bastille (a bordeaux blend). We were excited about all and absolutely loved the Jubilation Zinfandel.
Secondly, they’re serving their wines through innovative and damn good looking casks. No cardboard boxes and plastic taps here. Wine casks come in the classic, unassuming oak with personalized sidebars or funky, refurbished army ammo cases that couple as a fridge chiller.
The20 started with a couple of wine country locals who had a vision for a healthy planet and exciting wines. Not to mention, we loved the staff! Friendly, unassuming, and unpretentious wine lovers focused on the bigger picture.
the20 wines are available through their website and are also popping up in restaurants and bars throughout the country. There is also an option to join their wine club. The best part is that this technology allows a 20-50 percent discount from the price you would pay if found by the bottle. www.the20wines.com
And with that, we swirl our glasses to the best booth of the SF Vintners Market and best cask wine we’ve tried on the market.
Wine Spectator says wine on tap is here to stay. Why? The Millennials. “The idea has been introduced in the United States from time to time, but it’s never stuck. What’s changed? It seems to appeal to a younger demographic.” Read the full article.
“I get a big smile on my face when someone says they only want to drink wine out of a bottle,” said Mary Barbera, owner of Aida Bistro & Wine Bar in Washington D.C.. “When they taste a wine from the keg and realize how fresh it is, that’s all they want.” Read Dave McIntyre’s full review of how wine on tap is gracing the Washington D.C. restaurant scene in The Washington Post article.
“The perception gets quickly skewed — wine on tap means cheap wine. That’s not the idea,” said Henri Schock of Seattle’s Bottlehouse. “We are saving thirty to fifty percent when we purchase the wine in cask. In the case of the Hestia Chenin Blanc, we are offering the wine by the glass at $5 where we would have to charge $9 per glass if we purchased it in bottle. The Covington Cabernet would normally be priced at about $20 per glass but we are able to offer it for $9 per glass,” said Sarah Munson, co-founder and wine director of Seattle’s The Local Vine.
Read more about just another reason why wine on tap benefits all- because it’s cost effective- in Sean Sullivan’s full article in the Washington Wine Report.
The Corners Tavern, a new restaurant opening in Walnut Creek in December, will feature 20 wines on tap. This all makes sense because the restaurant is being set up by the Stock & Bones Company, big fans of wine on tap and the same restaurateurs who own and tap wine at Salt House in San Francisco and Irving St. Kitchen in Portland. (They also own San Francisco’s Town Hall and Anchor & Hope.) Read all about their new endeavor on the Inside Scoop SF. Stock & Bones guys- sending the big wine on tap props your way!
First impressions are everything, and wine on tap is still on a first impression basis for many. As an emerging market and one battling the stigma of bad wine kegging practices of the 1970’s and poorly boxed white zinfandel, wine on tap is still on the upward climb before it is embraced as a wine drinking norm. Thanks to the diligence and commitment of wine on tap pioneers like N2 Wines founder Jim Neal, however, a standard of excellence has been set, and wine on tap is now in a position to widely scale. We toured his wine facility and learned first hand how critical a commitment to technical due diligence is from the winemaker to the bartender to ensure wine on tap leaves a lasting impression.
Neal proved that kegging delicious, premium wines is the easy part because we tried them, right from the keg. It’s getting the wine from the keg into the glass where wine on tap meets its biggest challenge. His and partner winemaker Jeff Hunsaker’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and spicy with well-balanced tannins and hints of blackberries. Their 2009 Chardonnay has a nose of subtle vanillas and finishes with crisp, clean fruit. And their 2010 Chardonnay still in the tank is beautifully floral, finishing with perfectly balanced hints of oak and butter. These wines can taste drastically different from one bar or restaurant to the next, though, if proper tapping procedures are not followed.
Mediocre system installations and poor keg line maintenance are the largest culprits to a poor wine on tap experience. To name a few, if keg lines are not kept clean, wine will pick up residue and affect the wine as it is dispensed into the glass. If tubing used from the keg to the tap is oxygen permeable, it will cause air to leak in and oxidize the wine. If wine is kegged and tapped without 304 stainless steel components, the wine’s acidity will corrode the steel and ruin the wine. Furthermore, if kegs are pressurized without the precise mix of nitrogen and a hint of carbon dioxide to balance the natural Co2 in wine itself, the wine will deteriorate slightly in the keg, losing the freshness and aromatic nuances that were in the wine at the time of packaging.
Neal has been experimenting with all of the wine on tap possibilities since 2005 for a technical combination that will sustain and complement the complexities of wine. Now that he’s found it, it is his goal to not only bolster the potential of wine on tap to scale but to also share his model as industry best practice. To do so, he’s continually testing and re-testing the model and developing vital partnerships.
One of these partnerships is with Burgstahler Machine Works in St. Helena. Owner Wayne Burgstahler is designing some of the finest 304 stainless steel wine on tap valve systems. These valves, like the one pictured, provide the technical resilience needed for wine with 304 stainless steel while aesthetically complementing wines’ renowned reputation for elegance and class. With a growing waitlist for valve system orders, Burgstahler is one of many who can attest to the staying power of wine on tap.
In every major U.S. city, wine on tap is in at least a dozen restaurants, with new restaurants installing wine on tap systems every month. Because of the efforts of those like Neal, wine on tap is leaving not just a first impression but a permanent impression on the way we drink wine.
Some wine on tap spots that Neal has helped establish and promise a great glass of wine are Salt House in San Francisco; Farmstead in St. Helena, CA; Southie in Oakland, CA; Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale, AZ; and others scattered across Texas, Colorado and Arizona. Neal is also working on installing a 10 tap system at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Brassica restaurant in St. Helena, scheduled to open in early September. Find out more about Jim Neal and N2 Wines on their website, www.n2wines.com.
The Gotham Project, the New York-based wine shop, is leading the wine on tap movement on the East Coast. Headed by Charles Bieler and Bruce Schnieder, both were featured in the New York Times recently for what they’re doing to bring the New York market to life with wine on tap. Bieler said, “We’re not just selling a concept; we’re selling a better glass of wine.” Read the NY Times article and learn more about them on their website.