“Keggers” aren’t what they use to be!
We’re definitely not referring to some college party here. We’re talking about an extremely interesting trend taking place in the North American wine world: wine on tap!
Serving wines via a large format vessel is far from new. But technology, trade knowledge, winery embracement and consumer awareness equate to an exciting new period for wine programs.
Trends in the wine business come and go. The ones that stay often do so because they benefit a number of constituents. Wines-on-tap looks to be a game changer and for the very reason that all players in the biz and most importantly the customer see a huge amount of upside. Perhaps equally important is the unspoken benefactor, the environment.
We recently sat down with David Stansfield, sommelier and consulting wine guy in Vancouver, BC to get his take on wines-on-tap. David is leading the charge by shaping the programs for such cool sipping spots as Tap & Barrel and Vancouver Urban Winery. He also has his hands on some new projects in the ultra hip Pacific Northwest city. Be sure to keep an eye out for Bestie and Cuchillo located in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Railtown respectively.
“the success of the craft beer movement has bled into the swift acceptance of wine-on-tap” – David Stansfield, Sommelier
Here’s our conversation with David:
V: How did you get your start in the wine business?
DS: At seventeen I got drunk with the owner of a winery and he offered me a job; I took it. He liked how passionately I spoke about the wine after the second bottle. I liked drinking wine.
Seven years later I was working as the winery’s Director of Sales, so it worked out.
V: You’re leading the charge in delivering a new approach to wine experiences with the wines on tap program. How are consumers receiving it?
DS: So far so good. In our first seven months of service, we’ve sold the equivalent of over 10,000 bottles – almost 52 pallets of wine – from our 28 taps. Moreover, it represents 95% of our total wine sales.
I think the screwcap fought the alternative closure battle, and won. Consumers are willing to accept innovation in wine, particularly when that innovation comes with easily communicated improvements in the quality of wine in their glass.
I also think that the success of the craft beer movement has bled into the swift acceptance of wine-on-tap. There seems to be a lot more interest in things like flights and trying multiple wines over the course of a meal rather than picking one wine and sticking with it. This strikes me as a decidedly craft beer thing to do.
“I was blown away by its almost untested acceptance by consumers.”
V: How have your servers and bartenders responded to the wines-on-tap (WOT) program?
DS: They love it. It’s made their jobs simpler. There’s no more daily shuttling of bottles to and from the bar. It’s also eliminated the guesswork associated with divining wine faults, which can be an intimidating experience for servers and bartenders who are relatively new to wine.
V: Any wine program has its up and down sides. What are the one(s) associated with WOT?
DS: There are a lot of pros associated with wine-on-tap. Beyond the obvious – increased freshness, ease of service, etc. – my personal favourite is the fact that I’m accessing the wine prior to bottle. This means that I can work with wineries on projects like custom blends and exclusive wines. At the Tap & Barrel I’ve started something called the “Barrel Series,” for example. I’m purchasing single barrels of wine from local wineries and kegging them directly from barrel. By doing so, I get to offer unique, generally single vineyard wines that are not available anywhere else. It’s the wine equivalent of cask beer.
As for cons, I don’t know. At this point it’s still too new, like a new toy, and I’m rather enamoured with it. I suppose I’d like to sell more bottles. But if people want taps, give them taps.
V: Where do you see the wine experience going for consumers? Is there more beyond WOT? Home keg programs? Purchasing wine in bulk (a la Europe)?
DS: I’d love to see wine Growlers. At the Vancouver Urban Winery, we have a 36-tap wine bar and a retail store, yet never the twain shall meet according to current liquor licensing, which is truly a bummer, not to mention a waste of bottles. I’m heartened by Oregon’s Senate passing a wine Growler bill but disheartened by the fact that I live in BC, a truly weird place when it comes to liquor laws.
As for home wine kegs, they’ll arrive sooner rather than later. Good news for those looking for a classier alternative to the conventional keg stand.
V: You have a moderately sized number of WOT. For those considering or getting started, would you suggest a set number of wines?
DS: No. Like all wine programs, it depends entirely on the venue and its concept, menu, and customers.
V: I suspect the rate of wine (keg) consumption is ultimately associated with business volumes. Is there a target rate you shoot for with the wines? Days? Week? Months?
Reader note: Kegs are generally 19.5L in the North American market.
DS: We haven’t yet established that at the Tap & Barrel. We’ve been lucky enough to sell through even our slowest moving wines in very quick times. With that being said, I aim to sell through a keg in at least two months. The kegs have a lot more life in them than that; that number is more about the success of any given wine with our customers than it is with freshness.
V: How do you select wines for the wines-on-tap program?
DS: The same way I would for any restaurant’s wine program. It’s an alchemical mix of diverse wine types, styles, prices, and brands. Moreover, each wine has to make sense within the wine program as a whole as well as complementing the restaurant’s food and concept. Finally, if I’m having a tough time deciding, I get my friends drunk on it and solicit their reactions – in vino veritas.
The only difference for wine-on-tap is that I’m looking for wines that will be most suited to that medium. Those are wines that are ready-to-drink, fruit-driven, and, for reds, showing mature or soft tannins.
V: Have there been any real surprises (positive or negative) for you in running a WOT program?
DS: I was blown away by its almost untested acceptance by consumers. I hoped it would be a hit, but it’s been a runaway success, a torrent of wine.
Check out the links below if you’re looking to learn more about wines on tap.