Wine on tap is a growing trend in restaurants and bars: Total volume rose 106% in 2014, although it accounts for less than 1% of total wine volume through on-premise restaurant locations. “There’s a lot of excitement about it, however,” says adult-beverage specialist Donna Hood Crecca, Senior Director, Technomic, Chicago. Operators appreciate the operational benefits wine on tap provides and how it enables them to offer numerous wines by the glass with no waste. “Consumers also are intrigued,” she adds. Although only one quarter of consumers surveyed had seen wine on tap in restaurants or bars, 70% of them tried it when they did encounter it. Half said the flavor and quality was comparable to that of wine poured from the bottle. Additionally, 58% said the novelty was appealing, while 57% said the sustainability aspect was appealing.
Consumers are interested, particularly millennials, who cite the ability to explore and taste different wines and the eco-friendly aspects, such as less waste and fewer bottles, as benefits. Wine on tap can provide a unique point of differentiation to a restaurant concept.
A Growing Trend
For many years, operators who wanted to sell a range of wines by the glass had few dispensing options: either open lots of bottles and trust they’d be poured quickly before the quality declined from exposure to oxygen or go through the task of hand-pumping air out or injecting inert gas into the bottles to preserve the wine for a few days. Wine-preservation systems helped maintain freshness in the bottles that weren’t emptied in one evening, but they were only practical options for operations serving numerous higher-priced wines by the glass; even then, the dispensing equipment consumed valuable backbar space.
While other by-the-glass-friendly options, such as draft-wine systems, have been around since the 1980s, until recently this concept was hampered by the poor reputation of the mostly bulk—read “cheap”—wines available for draft dispensing. To the poor-quality issue add poor dispensing technology and improper maintenance of wine-on-tap systems, and consumers understandably were skeptical of kegged or bagged wines served from a tap.
Improvements in wine processing, packaging and dispensing have evolved along with more mature wine attitudes to earn dispensing systems a second look. More customers are confident about their wine choices and their ability to recognize a good wine. Especially at restaurants, wine now is more about exploration and enjoyment than pretense, with quality, selection and availability more important to consumers than labels and tradition.
There are two main forms of automated wine delivery: draft-wine and wine-preservation systems. Draft-wine systems deliver wines from bulk containers, either kegs or bags, through temperature-controlled long (remote) or short tubing to a tap in an anaerobic, pressurized system that looks much like a standard draft-beer setup.
Wine-preservation systems also keep oxygen from degrading wine and can be as simple as hand-held devices that remove air bottle by bottle (which we are not covering in this article) to elaborate temperature-controlled cabinets that hold multiple individual bottles connected to taps through tubes. Contemporary wine-preservation systems include smart-card software that allows servers or customers to get exact preset measures of wine, collects and reports inventory data and takes care of billing by communicating with the venue’s POS system.
Wine has been served via draft systems for some time at large commercial venues, such as the remote-draw systems at sports arenas, but only in the past few years have draft systems garnered the attention of restaurant operators.
Kegged wine is the main reason for the attention. More and more quality winemakers are embracing the idea of kegging their wines not only for efficiency’s sake, but many vintners are reporting that their kegged wines are superior to their bottled wines. Kegs, they say, maintain and preserve a wine’s character and quality very well. Companies that keg wine report a doubling in the volume sold last year, with another doubling expected by the end of 2015—the equivalent of about 400,000 12-bottle cases. The number of wine brands available—domestic and imported—for keg dispensing continues to increase, and surveys of millennial consumers reveal little or no resistance to the concept of wine dispensed from a keg. Draft wine is expected to grow far beyond its current 1% share of on-premise wine sales.
Before considering any wine system, whether draft or preservation, you need to ask yourself a few simple questions: Is my current by-the-glass wine volume robust enough to deplete full kegs in a timely manner? Will my business support offering more than a few by-the-glass options? What are the most popular price points and ages for the wines I sell by the glass? Are the types of wines my customers like available in kegs or bags? How many taps can I legitimately benefit from installing?
Wine-by-the-glass sales continue to grow on-premise, and anyone finding the endless bottle juggling to be a hassle should seriously consider what each option—draft and preservation—provides.
Operations focusing on higher priced wines or wines that have been aged likely will find few of those labels available in kegs; additionally, keg wines are not meant to benefit from aging and work best with recent vintages that are ready to serve. Anyone pouring lots of relatively young house wine can benefit from a draft system. Wine-preservation systems work best for operations pouring pricier wines.
On The Draw
For those already pouring multiple wines by the glass, draft systems offer savings potential: one 1/6 keg of wine (19.5 l) can serve approximately 130 glasses—about 26 750-ml bottles—at roughly half the gross cost of bottled equivalents. By eliminating corking, partial-pour wine waste and bottle recycling, a restaurant’s wine service is more cost effective as well.
On-premise draft-wine systems are simple and relatively inexpensive to install and operate, but installing them correctly is critical to maintaining the wine’s quality. Just as with draft-beer systems, there are two main types of draft-wine systems: direct draw and remote draw. Direct-draw systems typically are temperature-controlled cabinets topped with a tap system. These units come in varying sizes and install beneath a front- or backbar, with kegs or bags inside the cabinet. Remote-draw systems pull wines from kegs stored remotely in walk-in coolers or wine rooms, then run them through long lines to tap handles at the bar. In both cases, some operators install elaborate custom-made systems that allow them to sell as many as 50 or more varieties of wines by the glass.
Empty wine kegs generally are returnable to the distributor, so draft-wine storage is easier to manage. Moving to kegged wine cuts tons of glass out of the supply chain and waste stream. Wines can be tapped and kept fresh for about three months; untapped kegs should be used within a year of being kegged. (A good rule of thumb: If your operation doesn’t already deplete 26 bottles of a house wine in six weeks, a draft-wine system won’t produce significant savings, although the ability to upgrade to pricier wines by the glass and reduce waste might influence you.) Many of you will be familiar with 1/6 kegs, the 2-ft.H x 9¼-in.W keg frequently used by craft-beer brewers.
Direct-draw wine systems are gaining traction, partially because of innovations in their construction and components and partially because of reduced costs of wine, labor (no corking), product loss and trash hauling. However, some wine providers say some restaurant operators are using poorly installed systems—usually ones that mimic draft-beer systems—and that’s a big mistake. You should expect to pay a minimum of about $800 per tap, depending on the vendor and type of wine tower.
Many direct-draw systems are self-contained keg-refrigerator-type units; some models hold eight or more kegs and feature elaborate, multiple-faucet tap towers. Once installed, you primarily need to keep these systems very clean, switch kegs properly, monitor temperatures and taste-check wine quality. However, the basic system requirements that make draft-wine systems differ from draft-beer systems are important to note before buying.
First, the type of metal used is critical. Type 304 stainless components—valve couplers, tubing nipples, faucets, shanks—are absolutely essential to maintain the wine’s quality, the system’s integrity and your customers’ health. The type commonly used for draft beer, Type 303 stainless, contains too much sulfur and can taint wine. Type 304 stainless does not react to the high-acid environment of wine and is the standard material used in winery fittings, tanks and kegs. You will need to install Type 304 stainless components in any draft-beer system retrofitted for wine.
Similarly, oxygen-barrier tubing, commonly ¼ in., is required as wine can oxidize quickly when exposed to the more porous polypropylene or vinyl tubing common in beer systems. Oxidation and flavor transfer can occur within hours when wine sits inside these types of tubing. Several feet of tubing may lie between the keg and tap in even a compact system, enough to change the quality of the wine; for remote-draw systems sending wine hundreds of feet, the results can be disastrous.
Getting The Gas Right
Depending on the wine, draft-wine systems also require different gas mixes to propel the wine through the system. For most wines, it should be a blend of 75% nitrogen and 25% carbon dioxide—called the Guinness blend—that comes blended in a single tank. The optimal pressure on still wines is between 4-10 psi, which is lower than that needed for beer. Winemakers and draft specialists point out that the pure nitrogen or argon used in wine-preservation systems is not optimal in maintaining freshness in taste and aroma in draft systems. This is especially important when dispensing red wines because the warmer temperatures at which reds are normally served pushes gas out of the wine faster. A red wine that loses its CO2 can taste a little flat or tired, with less fruit and muted aromas. While this also can happen in white wine, whites usually are held and served at colder temperatures, so they tend to retain their CO2.
Sparkling wines, however, require pure CO2 gas to retain carbonation as servings are pushed through the system. Other adjustments also are needed to guarantee its integrity, including a flow- control faucet that prevents excess foaming, which can lead to waste and result in flatter servings. Sparkling wines require serving temperatures between 35˚F-40˚F and about 20 psi of pressure; additionally, the lines running generally more acidic sparkling wines may need more frequent cleaning than ones using still wines. Manufacturers and packagers recommend cleaning with caustic and citric acid washes every three months or with each change of product as standard procedure to remove residual color, flavor and residue.
Most direct-draw-system manufacturers offer single- and dual-zone temperature-controlled units, which is important as whites and roses need to be served at 40˚F-45˚F, while reds are optimal at 55˚F-60˚F. While dual-zone systems are common, make sure the insulation between chambers is adequate to maintain the two temperatures. Kegs are fairly resistant to temperature changes, partially because of their materials; for example, stainless kegs fluctuate in temperature much more slowly than glass bottles. Additionally, a keg's volume can affect temperature sensitivity. Even when the keg itself becomes warmer or cooler than is optimal, a good portion of the wine inside the keg will take longer to be effected. Still, kegs need to be kept chilled or as close to serving temperature as possible before being tapped.
With remote-draw systems, operators face some of the same issues as with remote beer lines: White, rose and sparkling wines need to be drawn from a walk-in or other chilled environment and pumped long distances just like beer from a remote, refrigerated keg walk-in. Beer pumps, often used in long-draw systems 300 ft. or more from the tap, can work with wine systems because the pump’s compressed air doesn’t come into contact with the wine it propels. These pump devices can work up to 800 ft. away; they require CO2 tanks, lines and regulators.
To keep wines cool from keg or bag to tap, tubes carrying the wine are run side-by-side with glycol cooling lines in one trunk line. Running more temperate reds together with cooler whites and glycol lines in a single trunk line requires some barrier separation between tubes so the red wines don’t become too cold to serve immediately out of the tap.
Again, the lines should be flushed with a caustic and citric acid wash, and the first glass of wine of any newly tapped keg should be tasted to make sure it’s fresh. This is especially important if you decide to rotate the types of wines you tap.
Wine-preservation systems in one form or another have been in use for about 40 years in the U.S., and while technology has advanced—system diagnostics, pour monitoring and reporting and wine-sales analysis are common—the more interesting advances allow guests to activate each tap with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) card reader with a venue-provided “debit” card. In systems equipped with RFID, each wine displays its own price and information screen; the size of the pour can be controlled as well. Numerous systems include multiple-size pour options, a key factor for wine bars. These systems are starting to find their way into draft technology as well, and some wine-preservation-system manufacturers are developing hybrid systems that serve both wine from bottles and wines on tap through their monitoring and service programs. Customers touch programmed buttons or LCD screens to pour the amount they want.
How They Work
All of these wine-preservation systems—even the fanciest 50-wine model—operate on the same principle: Inert gas, usually nitrogen or argon, keeps the wine fresh while still in its standard 750-ml bottle, either keeping cork intact or after the wines have been uncorked by hand. Canisters of the preserving argon or nitrogen gasses usually are purchased separately from the wine-preservation system. Stored and hooked up remotely, they require two-stage regulators and may require professional installation. In the case of either gas, pressure should be maintained at 3-6 psi. Many manufacturers also offer small argon canisters and single regulator kits as part of their wine-preservation-system package.
The units—which generally range from smaller four-bottle countertop types to beautiful, elaborate custom-built “walls of wine”—are temperature controlled, using Type 304 stainless shanks and faucets. The same food-grade gasses that pressurize the wine preserve it by keeping it anaerobic—oxygen being the leading cause of wine deterioration—and promise to preserve wine up to two months.
For the most part, these systems shouldn’t be installed near major sources of heat, such as ovens, fireplaces, heaters, etc., or be exposed to strong sunlight. And as with any refrigerator, you need to make sure the unit is installed with plenty of airflow space to dispel heat. Many of these wine-preservation systems require dedicated electric outlets, but no other special electric or plumbing work. Wine-preservation systems also require frequent cleaning; the taps and shanks should be flushed with water between bottles, the taps need to be cleaned daily and the lines require monthly cleaning with a mixture of warm water and citric acid or sanitizer.
BARREL FRESH WINE ON TAP
Each winery that’s a certified Barrel Fresh partner fills 9-l. U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved flexcases with an approved TORR filler. The 9-l. bags then are placed into small cardboard boxes and shipped through a regular distributor channel to restaurants. Onsite, a bartender places each bag into a TORR Keg and twists the lid into place. The TORR Keg slides into the Barrel Fresh Slim-Tap tray system, where it automatically connects to allow bartenders to dispense wine from the tap. Choose from 12-, 4- and 2-keg temperature-controlled cabinets. Barrel Fresh offers the 2- and 4-keg cabinets in 3 versions: one remotes the compressor and taps apart from the kegs, another keeps the compressor built in and remotes the taps and a final all-in-one version has the compressor and taps built in.
BEVERAGE-AIR DUAL-ZONE DRAFT-WINE SYSTEMS
Dual-zone models feature 2 independent compartments to hold wines in 2 temperature zones: 33˚F-55˚F and 40˚F-50˚F. Foamed-in-place CFC- and HCFC-free polyurethane insulation enhances the structural strength of the cabinet and helps increase energy efficiency. Solid doors self-close and include key locks. Magnetic gaskets, which snap in for easy cleaning or replacement, provide positive door sealing. A keg compartment holds 4 1/6-size kegs. Refrigerated foamed-in-place drawers hold 30 standard wine bottles per drawer. LED lighting is standard with a manual on/off switch. Units are wired at the factory and ready for connection to a 115V/60/1 phase power source. Unit measures 59-in.W x 28 3/16-in.D x 37 1/4-in.H. Black or stainless exterior and interior finishes are available.
GLASTENDER DRAFT-WINE SYSTEMS
Glastender is a bar-refrigeration specialist with completely flexible configuration and fabrication capabilities. Start with a base cooler and work with company engineers to configure the precise draft-wine cooler system you need for your operations. The types of wines you want to serve, the number of temperature zones, keg sizes, number of kegs and number of tap heads you’ll need are all part of the design process. The Glastender team configures components into the products to fit your exact specifications using state-of-the-art, in-house fabrication systems.
MICRO MATIC PRO-LINE
Wine by the glass accounts for 80% of a restaurant’s wine sales. Serve keg wine and eliminate the cork, oxidation, spoilage and waste from individual bottles. Micro Matic Pro-Line Wine dual-temperature keg dispensers store and serve wine at their optimum temperatures: 45˚F for whites and 55˚F for reds. Self-contained units come in either 4- or 8-keg models. Kegged wine is effective in reducing overhead cost. Because opened bottles only keep fresh for a day or so, a typical restaurant loses 25% of its bottle profit by throwing out half-empty bottles.
NAPA TECHNOLOGY WINESTATION
Napa Technology is the designer and manufacturer of the WineStation, an innovative, intelligent dispensing and preservation solution. The unit is designed to harness the untapped opportunities and recapture lost revenues for any wine program, large or small. Each WineStation cabinet houses 4 wine bottles that can measure from split to magnum in size. Using argon gas for preservation, the unit can dispense up to 3 pour settings between 7.5-25 oz., which are set by the operator. The WineStation’s plug-and-pour design can configure to dispense from 4 to hundreds of bottles. With the Clean-Pour Dispensing-Head technology, the wine travels directly from bottle to glass for contamination-free delivery. In addition to a smart card/POS tie in, the system can integrate with room keys on cruises, in casinos and hotels.
The Dual-Zone 36-in. Wine Center holds 2 1/6-size kegs in 2 individually programmable compartments to provide one temperature-controlled zone for white wines and another for reds. An NSF-approved digital temperature control for each compartment offers a temperature range of more than 25˚F—from 36˚F-65˚F—so you can serve vintages at their optimal temperature every time. Like the larger DZS60 within the same line of Perlick Wine Certified products, the DZS36 offers wine-dispensing kits with sanitary 304 stainless components to protect the delicate flavors of fine vintages. Plus, at 36-in.W x 24.-in.D x 34.-in.H, the DZS36 fits under a typical bar, and the front refrigeration-unit access makes it easy to service. The unit operates on 120V/60/1 phase power source.
WINEEMOTION WINE-DISPENSING SYSTEMS
WineEmotion wine-dispensing systems eliminate spoilage by preserving wine for 30 days; the system uses argon gas. Available in 3 models—Cinque, Otto and Quattro+4—the units dispense 5 or 8 bottles of wine. Quattro+4 offers dual temperature zones to hold wines at 2 temperatures in splits of 4 and 4 bottles or 5 and 3 bottles. All 3 models come with smart-card activation for customer self-serve installations. Limit over-pouring with the simple precise pour controls and reduce waste from opened, partial-pour bottles.
THE WINEKEEPER MONTEREY SYSTEM
The WineKeeper Monterey wine-preservation and dispensing system has a professional look with a stainless, laminate, oak or mahogany finish that fits well into any commercial environment. The system sustains open bottles of wine for an average of 2-3 weeks. The Monterey can dispense from 8 open bottles of wine and has room to store backup bottles. The refrigeration system features an auto defrost, and the temperature is set to accommodate red wines at 46˚F-68˚F on one side and white wines at 42˚F-48˚F on the other. You also can set the system as a single temperature zone. The interior is lit with LEDs and accessible with easy-to-use sliding glass doors. The unit measures 39 ½-in.W x 19 ½-in.D x 27-in.H and requires vented air space 12 in. above and 1 in. behind and on the sides. The refrigerated case weighs 180 lb. and runs on 120V/60/1 phase power source.
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Holding cabinets can play a significant role in helping maintain food safety levels.