There's a new trend in wine packaging, and it borrows from its beer brethren. Restaurants have begun keeping wines in kegs, and pouring it out of a tap.
Keeping wine on tap reduces packaging and storage space, saves time opening bottles — some of which might be corked — and allows restaurants to keep a selection of wines by the glass fresher than they tend to stay when they're kept in a bottle on the counter or in a fridge for who knows how many days.
For Steve Rose, chef/owner of the Vineyards Inn Spanish Bar & Grill in Kenwood, it's all that and also about being environmentally conscious.
"I believe in it," he said. "It's my passion to be as green as possible."
Rose recently designed his own tap system to pour 14 different wines, from whites and ros? that are kept in the restaurant's walk-in refrigerator to a selection of reds kept at room temperature. Each keg holds 1.5 gallons, depending on pour size (the average is 5 ounces) or about 130 glasses worth of wine.
Nitrogen is used to keep the wines fresh and once the kegs are empty, they're returned to their respective wineries to be cleaned and re-used.
"When I first lived in Kenwood, back in 1973, I could get a gallon of wine in a jug from Valley of the Moon and several other places around," said Jay Gamel, a regular customer at the Vineyards Inn. "We lost that simple touch along the way. I haven't been able to tell any difference between the bottle and the keg wines. It saves money. I also drink less."
Rose works with neighbor Kaz Vineyard & Winery of Kenwood to keg a proprietary syrah from grapes grown on Rose's own vineyard, and offers an Au Bon Climat chardonnay, Tablas Creek Rhone blend as well as wines provided by Silvertap Winery in Sonoma.
Founded by two Sonoma County winemakers, Dan Donahoe of Teira Wines and Jordan Kivelstadt of Qualia Wines, and a restaurateur (Todd Rushing of Atlanta-based Concentrics Restaurants), Silvertap only makes wines for kegs. Through a sister company called Free Flow Wines, it offers wineries in the area use of their mobile kegging line so they too can offer wines on tap.
"What I learned through trial and error is putting wine in a keg is totally different than in a bottle," Donahoe explained. "You have to clean the keg really, really well or microbes will spoil the wine and make it re-ferment. We figured out a system so that fine wine — this is not Central Valley bulk wine — fine wine in a keg is dispensed safely every time."
That system is a partnership with a worldwide expert in draft systems, MicroMatic, what he calls "the biggest company you've never heard of" in the restaurant business.
Working with winemaker Bill Knuttel, who has made wine for Saintsbury, Chalk Hill and Dry Creek Vineyard, Silvertap offers eight different wines on tap, all from grapes grown in Sonoma County, from sauvignon blanc to zinfandel.
Donahoe says Silvertap is on track to sell the equivalent of over 10,000 cases of wine in keg this year while Free Flow Wines now has more than 50 custom kegging clients — from Paul Hobbs, Saintsbury and Lioco to the Mendocino Wine Company and Beringer, which will soon release a Knights Valley cabernet sauvignon in kegs.