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January 19, 2011

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Oh man. I so disagree with many of your points. Your opinions here are pretty radical.

Freshness? of course it's fresher. Sure you pour off an ounce or two of wine once a day when you open up for business but that it. I think what falls under the "freshness" theme here is TCA. You've got no risk for corked bottles which account for about 10% of production in wines I believe. You've got no risk for oxidation from wines being opened and left overnight. You know how many times ive gotten a tired glass of wine because they didnt pour through the whole bottle the night before and decided to serve it the next day? I think you are nitpicking here. Fruit flies? Dude, if youve got a fruit basket at home youve got fruit flies, it's no reason to not work with wine in keg. Keep your tap area clean and fruit flies will be under control. And why are you nitpicking on what the lines are cleaned with? You drink beers from a tap, whats so different about a wine? if a line is cleaned it is flushed properly. And if its flushed with wine after whats the big deal? its only once every few months. Also, the fact is that wines in keg are and should be filtered. Meaning the lines do not need to be cleaned like beer lines, which have yeasts and sediments in them.

Green? It's way more green that anything else. Wine is going to be shipped no matter where its coming from. At least with a keg, its being shipped in bulk, and not in a 750ml glass container (which in itself takes fossil fuels to make) that has a one time use life to it, that has been made and shipped from the glass company, only to be thrown away (or recycled, which means a fuel run garbage truck comes and picks them up by tax paid city workers who then bring them to a recycling plant which uses fuel to recycle them and ship it off to be turned back into glass only to start the whole process over again). And Cork? Trees are chopped down for corks. Labels? paper from trees printed with probably toxic ink and shipped to the winery via fedex to be labeled.

Sure if you are really wanting to go green then buy local. but im sorry, as much as I love local wines there will and is always going to be a need for wines from around the world. And you now what? I bet if you compared a non local wine in keg to a local wine in labeled glass and cork with foil seal you would not be able to break down what has less of a carbon footprint.

How to purchase a bottle? Well thats a good point. You can't, and that should be OK. The percentage of people that actually drink a wine in a restaurant and go out and buy the bottle retail is so tiny. I'd say 99.99% of people would just suck it up and move on.

I can see how you could be nervous if this Keg thing took over the entire by the glass program at every restaurant everywhere. But its not going to. I think you need to be a forward thinker in this case. It is a positive thing. it's just like the stelvin closure. people didnt get it at first, but eventually it made sense and the just about the entire wine world has embraced it to some degree.

Looking forward to our cider tasting dude!

Word.

I love that photo.

Mr. Silver makes some interesting points. I disagree with his analysis, but his presentation is made so well that I am challenged to think through my position again, and that is a rare thing.

But before I go any farther, to @MarkGrimaldi - dude get your facts straight. The rate of TCA occurrence has NEVER been 10%. There was one over-hyped media report of anecdotal evidence from a 2004 tasting of mid-tier wines in Australia that 8% of the wines exhibited taint. There was no reporting on the breakdown of the type of closures used (real cork, or those glued-up abominations) in the offending bottles, and no follow-up analysis to confirm the actual presence of TCA.

Before the cork industry got serious about removing halogenated chemicals (like some pesticides used in the forests and cleaners used in production) my experience as a retailer was that around 2% of bottles closed with whole bark showed some level of taint.

When I was manager of a wine services lab we were involved in some insurance cases where nearly 100% of small production wines exhibited measurable TCA, but this was by far the exception rather than the rule.

At the lab we also offered pre-bottling cork lot evaluation to our clients, using statistical sampling, sensory techniques, and direct analysis. I can say unequivocally that for quality whole bark cork from reputable suppliers, the rate of occurrence was under 1% overall - and realistically under 0.5% in 90% of our trials. That is one bottle in 200, not one bottle in 10.

We pull a lot of corks at our tasting room, and the occurrence of a corked bottle is so rare that it is almost a celebrated event - we will pour the tainted wine side-by-side with a good bottle so our guests actually know what a "corked" wine smells like.

TCA issues aside, not one cork tree is harmed in the production of cork, any more than we tear up vines every vintage we make wine. The bark is stripped gently from the trees, and it grows back.

Back to kegs - I think Mr. Silver's fears are overwrought. First and foremost, if a lot of consumers were demanding WOT there would be a lot more of it than there is. And the simple fact of "the market" is that if consumers ever do demand WOT in large numbers, those producers who insist that the only "proper" way to serve wine is from a glass bottle will go the way of the dodo.

But currently, small-production, quality WOT is a fad and a rarity. As a producer who is interested in putting a small amount of my production in keg, I can tell you that here in the North Coast of California - where one might expect a reasonable number of early adopters - at this time there is far more resistance than acceptance among restaurateurs.

I do believe that the technology will mature and more people will embrace it, but it will never be more than a minor niche product.

As for mid-range quality industrial wine on tap? It already exists - as wine-in-a-box. Usually a pretty big box designed to fit in a standard commercial beverage cooler. This technology is fully mature, widely available, and very cost-effective. And fruit flies are not an issue.

So chill out - wine in glass bottles is not under threat.

The only part that I really have time to address is profitability. You removed it from the topic, but it needs to be taken into account. As a small producer of high quality wine, it is more expensive to keg stuff up. Kegs are expensive. Filling them is a lot of work. You're going to pay for a day(s) of bottling anyway (for what you don't reserve for keg programs). Keg program wine is being held in tank or barrel and taking up real estate, and the wines become ultimately different (and should be sold as so). For a winery- kegging high quality wine doesn't initially make the most $ sense. I can see why you don't like it, but don't buy many of the other arguments.

The only place I will agree on is that taps and lines need to be kept clean and well maintained. You'd hope that a restaurant that just spent thousands of $ putting in a tap system would take care of it. Most do. But we all have horror stories.

Whether it is coming out of a tap or some other form of re-usable packaging. Bottles make zero sense for most BTG programs.

OK, so cork taint isn't 10%. I sell wine for a living, and I come across corked bottles all the time. Just had one yesterday actually. Wiki says that wines under cork closure now make up 60% of a 20 billion bottle production worldwide. Even if 1% of them are corked that is still a sh*tload of wasted wine!

I stand corrected on the cork harvesting.

Cork taint is not as simple as "it is or it is not corked". It tends to be variable and only when a certain threshold is exceeded do we recognize it. Therefore there is the issue of what David Schildknecht has called the "sub threshold cork taint. In this case the taint is not in sufficient concentration to be recognized as the awful musty stuff and yet the wine is somewhat affected. We use expressions to excuse the wine then, if it is from a known label, such as " this bottle is off" or "the wine is in a down phase" etc... In fact the likelihood is that there is TCA in the wine to blunt the fruit but at enough of a low level not to be recognized as such.

The odd scenario is when the wine has enough TCA for a person that can taste it a very low threshold while the other person has a rather high threshold before being able to taste TCA. Then it gets into a debate as to "is the wine realy tainted". Note that we are talking here about parts per billion, ppb, and the range it is said can be from 4 ppb for low threshold tasters and over 14 ppb for high threshold tasters.

With this expanded definition that include low threshold taint, David Schildknecht has hypothesized that TCA negatively affects 15 to 20 % of cork finished wines.


Jim,
From top to bottom your timely opinion feels solidly grounded. But I think it will have the same future as King Canute's effort to hold back the waves. The in-the-American-grain influence of beer and soft-drink taps will inspire broad use of wine by the keg.

After all, your hygiene concerns evidently are not shared by cosmopolitan and provincial French drinkers who for generations have bellied up the zinc for a glass or two. I think it’s a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. (I remember wondering at two lunches at Chez Georges, the Paris bistro, how the Brouilly delivered to the table in pewter jugs had been managed downstairs in the cellar.) I cannot imagine that carafe-wine idlers in Austria's wine taverns worry much about storage and cleanliness issues.

All this is not to say that sanitation is unimportant, it’s to say that the public is accustomed to making certain assumptions about safety and to concede that even in ancient Rome probably a not-so-funny thing (an upset stomach) happened on the way home from the Forum.

Perhaps the No. 1 priority in nurturing a maturing wine-drinking culture in this country is to use any and all reasonably sensible sales techniques that help Americans think about (or not think about) and quaff vino the way Italians do in a side-street cafe in Palermo or Bari.

Is generic presentation "wrong" if it makes ordering a steel-reared chardonnay as routine, as natural, as reflexive, as reaching for a water bottle or a Bud? If cash flow, ever a winery's concern, is helped by making decent everyday riesling that, perhaps at Peconic Bay's request, is not identified with its label, what's the harm in it?

I now think keg wine -- a product that, yes, troubled me when I first encountered Bruce Schneider's and Charles Bieler's riesling -- is a commercially sound proposition with a future. And I feel instinctively that, like health care legislation, keg wine has quickly advanced too far to be effectively repealed. Adaptation to whatever kegs bring seems to be the order of the day. From the consumer's standpoint, municipal health departments are always at hand if things go wrong.

@mark - My ideas are radical? They're talking about putting wine in giant steel cans and I'm talking about leaving well enough alone, and I'm the radical?

@kareem - I love the picture too. It says Riesling, not a producer, a vineyard, a vintage, or an appellation. Its the best demonstration of what I'm saying.

@john - You don't need to tell me to chill, I'll be fine...but the giant bag in boxes you are talking about haven't got a chance to penetrate the upper tiered market that we are discussing here by their very nature. It's the fact that the kegs ARE penetrating it (with their quality), which will eventually lead to the negative scenario I'm suggesting. BTW, Fearless is a great old song.

@Hardy - At least for today, the restaurants for whom "bottles make zero sense" is not the restaurants I would typically be found eating in. Who knows about tomorrow.

@ Howard - Thanks for the opinion Howard. I understand completely the consumer-friendly aspects of this whole proposition. I am speaking to the industry here, from my side - the one that says I will NOT increase my yields nor relegate half of my production to the generic. Cash flow notwithstanding, it will drive the price of bottled wine higher if we project this notion forward a decade or so. It can easily devalue the production of whole swaths of appellations (Regnie, Brouilly, etc.) into carafe wine.

What Sonoma, or North Fork producer, who's costs of production are what they are can afford to have their areas reduced to half generic, half "fine", and thus their land values with it?

The gentrification/devaluing of the wine business only looks good from the bar, not from a tractor, I'm saying.

@jim
Maybe things are different in NY and the wide availability of high quality, locally produced, wine for kegs is not an option. But in the SF area, glass bottles for BTG programs (BTG- not all the list) make little sense.

I deal with wine kegs on a daily basis (as well as bottles)- I see all their ups as well as their downs- But- if the restos can keep their systems purring, and the small wineries keep their wines clean, this makes sense.

Yes, they are very far to one side and it seemed as if you tried to pull out every punch, even resorting to fruit flies, which was over the top IMO. This is not a new concept. Alcohol has been going in steel cans for many years, and has been served out of vessels that were not glass and cork for centuries. I dont think wine is keg is radical if you look at the big picture.


Ideally the motive of kegging wines is not to devalue your vineyards or product, it is simply to pass along the savings of packaging to your customer and their consumer, and be green, and try and save yourself money not only from packagin but from bad bottles as well. The kegs will pay for themsleves, and over not that long a period of time. If you decide to keg a wine, it does not mean you have to declassify your best vines and charge the equivalent of what a "bulk" wine would cost. If you want to price a keg at it's proper value then by all means do it. Do you think that because I can go and drink Weimer Semi-Dry out of keg that I will never go and pay $20 retail for the bottle? Or that fred has to lower his Bottle cost to compete with his Keg price? No. You price your product so that you make your margins no matter what format, and you put the same quality juice in keg thats in bottle. And you look hip as sh*t doing it. :)

We don't ship or open as much wine as others, but other than a case which we received from a Washington winery this past year we haven't found a single cork'd bottle among our shipments. At least nothing has turned up either returned or cork'd in our "quality control" sessions.

I just wish restaurants would tell the truth about why they want the system. Money. It takes at least 15 seconds for a bartender to open a new bottle and if they don't take the time and effort to educate wait staff on wine, the average customer orders the cheapest, most recognizable name on the menu.

I am a winemaker, at a winery with a keg system on the North Fork of Long Island, NY

@JIm

I have to start by saying I am glad you are now part of the North Fork Wine Industry. I have enjoyed being at tastings with you and hearing your insight. However on this particular topic several points need to be made.

Supply & Demand: You can not take cost out of this discussion. You make it sound as though winemakers are showing up to restaurants with wine in a keg and hooking into the existing beer draft system...restaurants/wineries that have WOT have made a serious investment into a wine specific draft system. This is a cross industry development that is a result of supply & demand on all levels. Wineries need to reduce packaging, restaurants need to reduce waste, customers want to support local wineries but need to be able to afford the wine, and the entire nation is screaming for ALL industries to reduce their carbon footprint. Wine in kegs and on tap our solution.

Being green; Shipping an empty keg (20 Liter capacity, weight 1 KG) back to the winery to get cleaned and refilled is still better than shipping the equivalent 26 bottles of empty glass (19.5 Liter capacity, weight 14KG of low density glass) to recycling centers that then have to input even more energy to separate, wash and remold the glass.

Cleanliness of Tap systems: The same sanitation that is implemented in the winery can be implemented in the sanitation of WOT lines. That is the beauty of wine specific tap systems. The materials used (mainly stainless steel and food grade non reactive plastics) are the same materials used in the wineries.

Bottles are not endangered: Very few consumers are going to have a keg system installed in their kitchen and buy a keg of their favorite wine once a week. At least I hope not that is 20 Liters of wine! For the average NY household a keg will still be way more expensive than a standard bottle. The 750ml bottle will still be the take home for housewives and collectors alike. there is a reason that particular volume and packaging has been so successful over decades, I highly doubt collects will start buying kegs of Chateau Petrus to lie down in their cellars.

'the loss of small lots meant to demonstrate a vineyard terroir': kegs are actually a more effective way to show off small lot production. One of the first wines I am putting to tap is a 2007 Petit Verdot...A beautiful wine that we have 4 barrels of which is not cost effective to bottle BECAUSE it is a small lot. We could pass that cost onto the consumer but we want people to have the opportunity to try a varietal that is rarely bottled on the North Fork.

The notion of wine in a keg IS NOT A NEW CONCEPT. Can I ask how your winemaker stores wine that does not fit into a barrel or a tank? Does that wine go down the drain? Or are there several kegs in winery to hold that overflow wine in a full vessel? Do you then declassify that wine because it was partially aged in a keg?

Thank You: You brought this topic into the public forum. Like the screw cap vs cork debate the public needs to be aware of all sides of the discussion before making a purchase based only on packaging. Lets remember that while our ideal consumers would be certified sommeliers and wine collectors that buy a bottle for $100/750ml our main clientele are the people of New York, most of which do not read wine periodicals on a daily basis and are hearing about wine in kegs for the first time, here.

Anybody know how I can get my hands on Evan Dawson's new book? I like the keg idea but ultimately it isn't going to take over the world. Sure, there will be a handful of restaurants of winebars that go completely keg if and when it is possible. I think the comments toward a 'profit only' reasoning are low blows. BTG's are money makers no matter what the wine is. The fact that someone like Paul Greico can build on his local-terroir-responsible-wine-drinking-selection by using kegged wine is pretty cool and should be celebrated. Space and efficiency will always trump so why shouldn't kegged wine? In the context of wines that you are reordering and burning through every week it makes a lot of sense. If it's Quilceda Creek or First Growth Bordeaux I don't think you are going to see it. 1) BTG's are innately money makers, 2) Seasonal or limited release wines (as with beers) offer a nice alternative to the BTG programs 3) everyone wants to have a huge wine d*ck and being hip to the newest invention or concoction or revolution will dominate 4) time will tell 5) I love to number things 6) Evan Dawson......I LOVE YOU!!!

You are missing the whole point of WOT. Putting a wine into a keg blanketed in nitrogen gas is a good thing for the consumer. It keeps the wine fresh until it is ready to be consumed. Many wine-by-the-glass programs around the country are inferior in that they fail to serve fresh wines. There are pioneers in restaurants in LA & NY who serve fresh wine (Daniel Boulud’s gastro pub DBGB in NYC & a hamburger & craft beer pub, My Father’s Office in Culver City, CA) to their customers out of a modified beer keg. Eric Asimov talks about them in his 2009 Times piece, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/dining/08pour.html?_r=3&ref=dining.

WOT is a great thing!

@robin - Thanks for the welcome, but I've been here for nine years. I've held executive positions in 3 wineries on the Nofo (Pindar, Bedell, Peconic Bay). Sadly for me the turnip truck of the wine business left 23 years ago, so maybe my feelings are old fashioned. But most of your first paragraph is untrue on its face; the entire second paragraph is speculation; your third paragraph relies on what should be done rather than what will be done; and your fourth point I agree with completely.

But your Petit Verdot...I would love to taste that. But I can't unless I travel to the one restaurant that serves it - is it 90 miles from here? Will you submit it for review? Can't. Can you bring it home for Thanksgiving with the family? Nope. Can you see how it develops over time? Nah. After the last tap is pulled on it will anyone know it existed?

Tonight I drank a 12 year old Brouilly (really did.) The experience is lost on this generation who aspire to make all wines into Cafe wines. Your PV may be amazing (I believe that totally too) but you're handling it like a cafe wine, and even though its not, that's how the consumer will see it, IMO.

Thx Robin, please reply again.

I keep reading this Op Ed piece over and over about this "Horrifying Trend" and it urks me more and more. This is some serious Chicken Little business. The sky, Mr. Silver, is most definitely not falling. Your paranoia is borderline hysterical. People are going to clean their lines and if they don't, there is a good chance that they also pour Kendal Jackson by the glass. That also plays into your irrational fear that once the big boys get involved and offer kegs at even cheaper prices then you'll never get another by the glass pour again. If that were true, everyone would be pouring the cheapest wines possible now. Price does not dictate placement. Advertising needs to be addressed...easy enough. The Gotham Project offers a tap handle with their logo and varietal on it. If you order a glass of wine now, while at the table, how many restaurants bring the bottle out to you to show you? If it's on the menu as a glass pour that's usually all you know; the name. You order. It comes out in a glass. You drink it safe in your decision that what's in you glass is what the menu said...or 'Chalk Board' I should say. How about....along with selling someone your keg you figure out how to get the bottle on the wine list as well? Say I like the glass....I buy a bottle for dinner. Maybe it's about balance. Maybe it offers you a chance to BTG a wine that would otherwise not be put on such a list because the cost/risk of opening a more expensive bottle is impossible. Or you know a wine that you make is going to get a pretty good presence on a BTG list so you keg some in order to limit your carbon footprint. I don't know....maybe we learn as we introduce the system. It isn't going to be perfect right from the go. With respect to import wines this offers a serious reduction in footprint because the wines will be shipped in bladders instead of bottles and boxes and labels. It's tough to respond to an obviously emotional post without some emotion myself but I think a level head and some patience need to be present. And you come off as a pompous, bitter, old man when you make blanket statements about a generation. By the way...the only way that 12 year old Brouilly would ever make a BTG list is if it was sitting in a warehouse for 12 years and then sold for peanuts. Is that how you want your wine treated so you can have a non-cafe wine experience? I always thought Cru Beaujolais was the quintessential cafe wine. Go figure.


And just to clarify my statement about being presented the bottle in a restauant. I take it back that I just expect the glass to come out full. In most cases they actually bring the bottle out, I look at it with mild enthusiasm, check for vintage, taste the litte bit they offer, then enjoy a glass. Easy enough, as a winery that offers kegs, you either have the bottle on the list, which in that case the bottle is shown, or you make up a small placard that gives all the info. Let the people know. Oddly, it sounds as if you are against BTG's all together. Fruit flies, freshness, cafe wines, cheaper wines. All arguments that could be applied to BTG's in general.

Jim, you're all over the map here, man.

I shared a bottle 2005 Puffenay Arbois on tuesday night in Terroir Tribeca (really did), I also had a glass of a Cozes-Hermitage Blanc and 1er Cru Chablis (Vaillons). And it's funny, I did all of this at a place that is leading proponent of Wine on tap. A few months ago I enjoyed Gotham Project FLX Riesling on tap there.

Who are you to say that the generation that promotes WOT also can not appreciate a traditional wine experience? That's just BS. Come over some time, we'll drink some old Barolo and Burgundy, and then maybe we'll top the night off with a trip to Luce & Hawkins for a glass of Paumanok Chenin Blanc on tap (which is also available in bottle for you traditionalists).

You should take this whole conversation and then replace wine with beer. That's a good way to really make all your points completely moot.

Quit drinking the haterade, homie. Enjoy your Cru Bojo, and work up some numbers so you can keep your margins and put a little Peconic Bay in Keg. Believe it or not, its so young in the keg game and there is so little competition, that you have a shot of getting a BTG in keg at a place where you quite possibly would never get a BTG in bottle placement. And you know what? Your customers with taps will thank you, after all you give them options, show them that you are a forward thinker, save them and you about a buck to buck and a half per bottle, and a whole lot of recycling to take care of.

Typo- Crozes, not Cozes.

Everywhere is filled with happy , harmonious and exciting atmosphere!

When I first started reading Mr. Silver's editorial, I was thinking he was either extremely politically incorrect or, more likely, leading up to a punch line.

But I must say, as I read on and on, he started to win me over. I am basically a consumer, not affiliated with the industry. I have always believed that this was a good 'green' initiative.

Assuming that is true, I must say I am torn between being 'green' and 'dumbing down'. Would this type of product delivery system 'dumb down' the selections available to me? I tend to think, over time, it would.

This is not unlike the discussion about putting wine in NY supermarkets. Would this ultimately squeeze out little wine shops that carry boutique wines?

After reading Mr Silver's thoughts, I think 'yes' to both questions. While kegs and supermarkets make sense, in the end, I think things would be 'dumbed down.'

Just being tongue in cheek here man. I'm actually looking forward to talking about this with you in person over some cider. These stages are never good for arguing. So much is lost in translation. :). Either way I'll respect your opinion.

You said it coach backpack guy!

Count me among the undecideds, or the optimistic-but-nevertheless-skeptical crowd. But I just want to say that the op-ed and the subsequent comments have been wonderfully clarifying. I appreciate Mark's comment to stress that he respects Jim's opinion even though they obviously disagree. This is a helpful, civil, strong discussion. In the end I'd guess this trend won't be reversed, but the discourse about what it means and how it might help - or not - the wine industry is an important one.

I would have no problem paying for the contents of this post. The original Op-Ed and the comments that follow fast-forwarded my thinking on the subject by months.

There is clearly a lot to consider here. I would especially like to understand the cost-savings incentive of WOT. If for a moment we put aside "green", marketing and cork taint aspects, who is really benefiting from the savings on packaging? Is it the winery, the restaurant or the consumer? Is the consumer going to pay $2 less for a glass of FL Riesling or LI Merlot? Or is the restaurant going to take most of the savings? Is the winery going to make a better margin on this wine than if it was bottled?

Lenn, I think you ought to register newyorkkegreport.com ...just saying' ;-)

Marco- WOT is not a savings to the winery. Kegs are expensive. Maintaining them takes time. Wine is reserved in barrel or tank that needs to be maintained (while the non-reserved wine has gone through bottling)- filling, cleaning, delivery, etc... Cost of materials and increased labor makes this less profitable for a winery putting high quality wine in keg. I charge the same $ per gallon in wine in keg as if it were a case of wine. (no savings to restaurant).

The restaurants often charge a similar charge btg from tap as per bottle- No savings to consumer. But- what is happening is that there is far less spoilage which equals more wine to be sold per ounce. Yes, people pour off the first few ounces a day (depending on length of line), but they aren't dumping a btg wine bottle that was 1/2 empty and didn't sell before it spoiled, and they aren't pouring a 3-day old and flat wine to a consumer.

Good wine on tap isn't directly about saving money / higher profitability. It is about saving wine.

@jim Glad you drank a 12yr old Brouilly. Now how would that experience be lost to people that support wine on tap? Wine for aging doesn't go away- It is just that if you are selling wine BTG, why do you need to waste the energy w/ creating bottles, shipping bottles, filling bottles, delivering bottles, storing bottles, maybe recycling bottles, that then takes s-tons of energy to reclaim x% of the matter, that then starts the cycle all over again (oh- while having a ton of your wine wasted that never makes it into a consumers glass or into the revenue stream of a restaurant) Why? So in some bizarre way you can feel good on your tractor?

@Hardy - A little hyperbolic on my part, but the contention is that there would be fewer wines produced for aging - even Brouilly, if keg wine became the norm. Just an example I'm making. But I see you can be hyperbolic too.

As for feeling good on a tractor, it feels good to produce high quality, low yield, fine wines, that are bottled with our name on it - nothing bizarre about that I trust. I just don't consider bottled wine a waste in any way. If you're at a restaurant that served 3 day old flat wine, for goodness sakes go someplace else. If you are a restaurant that wastes half a bottle of each wine a day you should seek the advice of a qualified beverage professional.

I know that kegs aren't going to supplant all bottled wine, I never said it would. I worry for the EVENTUAL replacement of quality kegged wine by COMMERCIAL interlopers. The kegs are an invitation to large producers to very, very easily undercut the small producers business. Do I think it'll happen at Terroir Tribeca - no way in hell. Do I think it'll happen at any of your neighborhood hang-outs? Yes.

Fewer wines produced for aging if kegs become the norm? I'm just missing the connection here. Most bottled BTG wines currently are either not suitable for aging, or will never be aged. Why create waste when we are already there?

We make wines for right now (never going to get better than what you have today), and for 10-20+ yrs from now. As much as you hate seeing wine flow from a tap, I get uncomfortable at the thought of someone popping and pouring cases of our current release Syrah when it won't be singing for 15yrs, when we only made 95 cases of it (and 20 of which we pulled off for library).

Out here (CA) there are great restaurants and somms supporting small producers, making place driven, honest wine, and getting that wine BTG in front of consumers in a way that generates less waste (of wine, materials, and perhaps energy)- This is why this is catching on- great wine made by real people, supported by people who give a hoot.

Large producers, bulk wine folks, and perhaps a few genuine turd-burglars are already in the game. But that is no different that what is happening in bottle. You and I both have to compete with some sort of mega-winery or small brand owned by mega-winery corp on wine lists today when they can just take scraps from any brand, throw a ton of money at it, create a new label and sell it for $50 a case. Ultimately, it is up to the juice.

From a eco standpoint- I hope the big guys switch to kegs. How much stuff is wasted when a mega-winery cranks out a million+ cases of plonk? At least in keg, the wine may still be plonk, but our landfills aren't filled with eternal reminders of it.

Good and Solid points Hardy, I can't argue with any of that!

This is such a great post. I love the comments and I thought I would give you my two penny's. I am totally on the fence with this option, thought I think I am leaning one way. Here is a story about a bottle of wine I had on our honeymoon 5+ years ago:

We stayed at the Farmhouse Inn in the Russian River Valley and at one of the dinners there we had a very expensive bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir -- I always drink local when I can.

The Sommelier brought the bottle, opened it, and let me taste. I melted in my seat it was so frigging good. She left the bottle, brought over a decanter, poured it into the decanter, (It was about 10 years old) and took the bottle away.

The wine, the meal and the night were memorable, but the bottle...forgotten.

Why, the bottle image is gone from my head, because I was only able to look at the bottle for a brief period of time. The label branding was not embedded in my head.

When a table orders wine on tap, they never see the bottle and their for may not be able to recall what wine they had and where it was from.

It happed to me, and I will never be able to recall the Pinot I had on the memorable night.


Consider me "old-school". I have to agree with Jim. Save the kegs for festivals and and Williamsburg pubs. The trend will be now readily available but for a select following and there is nothing wrong with that. On the issue of the cleaner/fresher wine; Give me glass.

As one of the pioneers of the Wine on Tap category, I was alarmed by reading a headline with the words "Horrifying Trend" and "Wine on Tap" in the same sentence. After reading the article and the subsequent posts in this blog, I feel that I must chime in.

The concept of serving wine from bulk packaging isn't new, nor is it solely a trend in the U.S. wine industry. Many readers know that wine as been served this way in European restaurants and cafes for decades, it is a legitimate way to package and serve wine - when executed properly.

What has happened in the U.S. market is that a number of restaurateurs and wineries have jumped into the category because of its purported benefits, without performing the due diligence required before launching. Instead of solving in advance the inherent problems with dispensing and packaging, many first adopters entered the market unprepared. I did that too, in 2006 when I first delivered kegs of wine to Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco. Since that first installation I have spent most of my working time identifying and solving the myriad of quality control issues that are involved with serving wine on tap. And because I have found solutions to the many pitfalls, I'm confident that the category is here to stay. When packaged and served properly, serving Wine of Tap makes sense-- bottom line. There will always be a place for traditional wine packaging, but as the American wine culture evolves, I believe that there is room for a more cost effective way to deliver the beverage to consumers in the on-premise setting.

A winery must be able to package their wines in sterile cooperage, and specific equipment is necessary to do that. The cooperage must be filled in the absence of air. The wines going into that cooperage must be treated just as wines are that would be bottled, i.e. the wines must be chemically stable, free from defects, and prepared so as to have shelf-life in the market. Those are the responsibilities of the winery, and if they are executed properly, the wine will maintain its integrity in the keg for years. Wines packaged into anaerobic containers must be free from reductive disulides, and our experiences with screw cap packaging has shown that it is achievable.

When dispensing the wines on-premise, there are responsibilities that the operator must meet. 304 or 316 stainless steel must be used at all points of contact with wine. All of our tanks and fittings in the winery are at least 304 stainless, it won't react with the acidity in the wine. There is also an oxygen barrier tubing that should be used to transfer the wine from the keg to the tap. Since the EVOH barrier in the tubing allows no oxygen ingress, it's not necessary to "bleed off" the first few ounces of wine that is poured. Common vinyl and poly tubing should be eradicated from wine service because they allow the wine to oxidize. O2 barrier tubing is made by Valpar under the trade name of Flavourlock Barriermaster tubing, and it's not expensive. Its widespread use is critical to the quality of dispensed wine.

The inert gas used to push the wine through the system is also important, and there has been some confusion regarding what to use. Pure nitrogen is not the best gas to use when dispensing wine on tap. Although it is inert, and we use it in the winery to displace air in partial tanks for short term storage, my experience shows that it's not ideal for dispensing. A gas with a percentage of CO2 is important for maintaining wine freshness in the system. Wine is bottled or packed into kegs with between 400 and 1200 parts per million dissolved CO2 in solution, depending on the style of the wine. It's an important property of the wine, and when the concentration of CO2 changes, the perception of the wine changes dramatically. The gases in the wine must be kept in equilibrium, and that can be done by using a mixture of gas in the dispensing system. The easiest solution for that is to use a premixed gas, 75% nitrogen and 25% carbon dioxide, which is readily available in the market because it is used for dispensing nitrogenated beers like Guinness. We're also testing the theory that CO2 helps scavenge the atmosphere within the keg, helping to prevent from forming the compounds which attribute to the reductive aromas of disulfides in the anaerobic system.

There is a group of like minded wine producers, processing and equipment manufacturers, wine bar and restaurant operators who are dedicated to the success of the Wine on Tap category. There will be a standardization of packaging and dispensing practices published soon and will be widely available to anyone interested in furthering the success of the category. Look for it on www.n2wines.com among other trade resources.

Cheers,

Jim Neal

I posted a comment earlier that echoed many of the sentiments that have been expressed since, although I can't seem to find it. Many thanks to NYCR for bringing this topic into a forum for enlightening discussion. My thoughts as to the viability of WOT for the long term are basically that "cafe" wines and some very nice wines will be packaged/consumed in that manner much the same as they are in Europe. Wine in bottles will always have a place right along side them in in many other fashions. Cheers.

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