Wine On Tap Gets Popular in Bars and Full-Service Restaurants | Food Newsfeed
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The Vine Through The Line

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How the wine-on-tap revolution may just improve your profits.
May 2012 Wine

Imagine this: You walk into a restaurant and order a wine by the glass–on tap!

Throw the traditional wine bottle format of yesteryear out the window! Dispel any preconceived notions you may have of normalcy, because a new wine-by-the-glass format is here, and it’s sweeping the nation. It’s better for the environment, customers love it, and it’s going to save your restaurant money.

“Some people sort of raise an eyebrow,” says Michael Taylor of Eno Wine Bar at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago. “Unlike boxed wine or screw-cap, where the public already has a preconceived notion of what they are dealing with, they have never seen this before, so they don’t know how to react to it.”

According to Taylor, this mystery factor breeds questions, which gives him the opportunity to make a case for it. Three years ago, Eno Wine Bar started serving wine on tap from Silvertap Wines. It now offers a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc blend, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel blends.

Silvertap Wines was founded by two winemakers and a restaurateur with the express goal of revolutionizing wine by the glass. Their wine on tap makes it easy to be green: they use reusable wine casks and skip the bottles, corks, cases, and labels. A wine cask holds the equivalent of 26 bottles but at a fraction of the weight, burning less fuel in shipping.

In addition to the two wines on tap, Eno serves about 50 bottles of wines by the glass and by the flight. With consistent results that disprove long-held perceptions, Taylor says that customers are constantly surprised when they discover their favorite wine comes from the keg.

It was that same desire to improve upon the customers’ quality of experience that led Adam Jed, partner and general manager of Bluestem Brasserie in San Francisco, to develop a wine-by-the-glass-on-tap program.

“It all started for me when I saw a lot of bartenders pouring off less than palatable wines–either to meet a beverage program cost percentage or because the wine had been open a couple of days,” says Jed. “And I thought to myself, there has to be a better way to do this!”

Jed started researching this program about five years ago with one goal–to better deliver wine as the winemaker intended it. After consulting with several industry professionals, including Jan Weidner, a refrigeration specialist, and Michael Ouellette, winemaker at Blockheadia Ringnosii in St. Helena, California, Jed developed a freestanding, double-stacked two-door refrigerator.

The dual-temperature unit serves 12 wines by the glass, six white wines at one temperature and six reds at another. It uses stainless steel tanks and an argon-nitrogen gas mixture to ensure perfectly preserved wines by preventing oxidation.

According to Jed, his goal was accomplished without question. “Customers have been excited and intrigued about it,” he says. “When they taste the juice, any questions that they would have had about the tap system are quickly diminished.”

Jed says Bluestem Brasserie even sells more wine because of this format and what he calls a European sensibility of drinking wine with meals. “If they aren’t counting corks, they end up drinking more,” he says. “Instead of having one bottle, they end up having two liters.”

Bluestem Brasserie goes through 15 20-liter barrels per week. It has even run into an enviable problem of going through too much wine, where wineries are running out. Jed says that when he first started this program, it was like pulling teeth to get winemakers to partner up. But this has gotten much easier now that wineries are seeing the benefits for them. Bluestem Brasserie has served such wines as Paul Hobbs, Qupé, Joel Gott, Olson Ogden Wines, Klinker Brick Winery out of Lodi, California, and Longmeadow Ranch.

Not only do guests drink more wine in this format, but Jed’s costs have also been significantly reduced. The average case of wine weighs about 60 pounds, including the juice and packaging. The average barrel of wine weighs about 60 pounds, so he is getting double the volume for half of the weight.

It costs the winery less to package the wine by shipping it in barrel (it costs roughly $24 per 12-bottle case for packaging materials), which is reflected on the price the customer pays. Bluestem Brasserie serves a Paul Hobbs Chardonnay for $13 by the glass, which would normally be $90 for a full-sized bottle, or $25 by the glass.

“With the value of what you get, it is very easy to make a buck on,” says Eno’s Taylor. “We are paying less on shipping and on the per bottle price.” Eno pays around $6 or $7 per bottle (or the equivalent volume) and sells the wine for $10 a glass. That is exactly the kind of revenue building that gets even the harshest skeptics to pay attention.

The effects are not just for the sake of monetary gain, either. In addition to paying less for greater returns, a wine-on-tap system eliminates the cost of a recycling program. For example, let’s say you are going through 300 to 400 bottles of wine per month. According to Jed, you would pay roughly $1,000 per month to get rid of them (plus a flat fee for service).

Due to the preservation system of wine on tap, waste is a 10th of what it was. An aggressive wine program could lose about one 750 ml bottle a day – at least $10 per day, or about $3,600 per year.

“Fortunately I am not faced with that problem,” Jed says. “I have tasted a wine that was open 45 days and it was just as fresh as day No. 1–and I challenge any restaurant program to beat that!”

The only drawback?

“The biggest problem is availability,” says Eno’s Taylor. “We haven’t seen the apex of this movement quite yet. We are still in its infancy.”

Every movement has to start somewhere. This new direction in delivery will only continue to improve quality, sustainability and long-term growth. Once restaurant beverage programs and wineries can put the past where it belongs and get on the same page, they could help save this planet, one glass at a time. Now that's change you can believe in.