An old idea + new technology = a wine revolution*
The most seasoned (read: oldest) of those reading this might remember ‘draft wines’ from the 70’s and 80’s. Usually in flavors of ‘Chablis’ and ‘Burgundy’ in 15 gallon beer barrels, they were innocuous, inoffensive (usually) wines that were great for places like sports arenas and banquet halls—no fuss, no muss. But as consumers’ tastes moved upward, the appeal of these wines waned and they (happily) went away.
Now (happily) they are back, albeit in a slightly modified and greatly improved fashion. The genesis of their return was wine country restaurants: good restaurants always want to offer something unique to their guests, and diners visiting wine country are usually a sophisticated and adventuresome bunch. And of course, wine country restaurants usually have close relationships with the wineries that are their neighbors. Add in the fact that it is not uncommon for a winery to have a barrel or two of wine they didn’t use in that year’s bottlings (usually good, but just didn’t fit the blend). So some restaurateur somewhere (either near Portland or San Francisco) talked a winery into putting the leftover juice into a keg, and a movement was born. Fast forward a few years, and it’s an absolute phenomenon: there are now several companies that specialize in kegging wines, logistic companies to move them, and ‘reverse-logistic’ companies to get the empty kegs back. Every week, we have at least one more producer offering us their wine in kegs.
And note that we’re not talking about low-end Chablis and Burgundy anymore: we’re talking producers like Blackbird Vineyards, Paul Hobbs, Liberty School, Palmina, Larry Mawby, Smith & Hook, J Winery, Simi, Hahn, Hess and many more. The attractions are numerous: the freshness aspect (the wines taste the same from first glass to last); the convenience, the ‘green’ aspect (no bottles/cardboard/corks; and it’s just plain cool (based on feedback from our early-adopters, their guests LOVE it). Be apprised however that there is usually not much, if any, savings when going to kegs. Your cost per ounce will usually be close to the same, the explanation being that though there are savings on packaging, there are added costs to put into keg and ship.
A few technical things to note: there is a VHS/Beta thing going on; some companies are using 30 liter disposable (recyclable) kegs, and some are using 19.5 liter returnable (with a $30 deposit). It appears that the 19.5 L size is winning the war, however Larry Mawby’s value line M. Lawrence is in the 30’s and we are doing extremely well with it—who wouldn’t want to have SEX on tap? And now there are a few companies making a 19.5 L disposable version. Also be apprised that one cannot simply convert a beer handle into a wine handle; the requirements for the line are of a higher standard for wine. Also, beer lines usually lead to beer coolers, and cold Cabernet is not so appealing. So if your restaurant wants to give this a whirl, you would need to make the investment to get it set up correctly. They make a stand-alone unit for 19.5s that looks like a keg-erator which can hold red and whites and makes it all very painless. The wines can be pushed with Nitrogen or Argon gas (or a mix), though nitrogen is easier to obtain and a bit less expensive.
So, if you consider yourself or your restaurant to be cool, avant-garde and fun. Or if you do a lot of volume and like the convenience aspect (because that is true benefit), then you should come to our kegger. If you are not cool, avant-garde, or fun… you are invited too. If you don’t come, we might make fun of you!