It’s simple. The wines are made like any wine is made- with love, passion, sweat, tears and unwavering commitment. After the barreling stage, instead of corking it, you keg it. The wine is transferred from the barrel directly into stainless steel kegs, usually holding about 26 bottles of wine each (or 130 glasses). It is pushed through the keg by gases such as nitrogen or argon, further providing a blanket over the wine and protecting it from oxidation. A simple pull of the keg handle unleashes a delicate stream of pure, enological bliss.
Due diligence and a commitment to quality is required when filling, tapping and maintaining wine kegs to ensure wine on tap is delivered at its best.
Installation: Wine on tap systems are mostly identical to beer on tap systems, with the kegs, coupler, tubing, shanks, and faucets. 304 stainless steel Sankey-style kegs and parts are the industry recommendation (to avoid any funky steel chemicals messing with the wines) along with Valpar’s Barriermaster Flavourlock tubing. All tap lines used with wine on tap should be new and used for wines only. Installation starts at around $2,500 for basic equipment. (With wine on tap, remember, restaurants and bars break even on installation costs after selling about 3-4 kegs of wine.) Micromatic and Perlick are highly-rated wine-on-tap system installers.
Washing, Sanitizing and Filling: Investment in a proper washing and sanitizing system, like those offered by IDD Processing and Packaging of Moorpark, CA, will ensure the job is done correctly and efficiently. To wash, the washing agent must be pushed through the keg’s spear tube and onto the internal walls of the keg and outer surfaces of the spear tube. Because there are many variables that could contribute to washing and sanitizing kegs by hand incorrectly (such as residue left behind from the washing agent), it is important to invest in a washing and sanitizing system to ensure the wines’ quality is not hindered when coming in contact with the keg. After kegs are sanitized, they are purged of air and pressurized with gas, such as nitrogen. Kegs are filled to their appropriate pressure and level and sealed through the keg’s valve.
Dispensing: When tapping the wine keg, argon or nitrogen is used to push the wine from the keg to the glass (and further provides a blanket over the wine to prevent oxidization). And to get very specific, argon or nitrogen mixed with Co2 is the best choice. Jim Neal of N2 Wines and Jeff Gunn of IDD Process and Packaging told it best to Wine Industry Insight saying, “After fermentation, wine is supersaturated with CO2 and other gases…When commercial wines are bottled or packaged, they are done so with a carefully determined amount of dissolved CO2 left in the wine…giv[ing] it liveliness on the palate…”
When dispensing wine on tap, it is best to use a mix of argon or nitrogen with Co2 to help maintain the Co2 found in wine after fermentation. “Since we’re dispensing wine under relatively low pressures, and assuming that the wines will not be served above 60˚F, a readily available premixed gas of 75% N2 and 25% CO2 works pretty well,” Neal and Gunn said.
Wines should be pressurized at a very low PSI to avoid damage to the wines when dispensing. It is also just as important to have clean and correct dispensing processes as is it to have quality kegging procedures. Anything less will mess with the properties of the wine, and they won’t show well in the glass.