Savvy Sipping: Back to the future with wines on tap

April 6, 2011 at 9:09 AM ET

City Winery /
Wines on tap are the hot new trends, as shown in this image from New York's City Winery.

The pop of a cork or snap of a screw cap are not the only sounds you’ll be hearing these days when it comes to unleashing a glass of wine. Listen for the whoosh of a spigot.

I think back to when imbibers would hoist their big glass jugs to a local winery or store and fill them up with fermented juice straight from the barrel. It may not have been great wine, but it did the job.

Fast forward a century or so, and the hooch has turned into world-class vino and those glass jugs have become crystal wine glasses. Today, many of the country’s toniest bars and restaurants are adopting wines-on-tap programs. Why? They’re kind to the earth and your wallet.

In chic Sonoma, Calif., devotees gather at the Corner Café in the El Dorado Hotel to sample their newly launched wine-on-tap program. With six wines from some of the areas boutique producers, it’s becoming a destination for those in the know. “Where else can you get a glass of Bjornstad Cellars Chardonnay from the famous Richie Vineyard in Russian River Valley for $10? A bottle of wine from this vineyard can top $100,” says wine director Patrick Hudkins. “We’re getting world-class wines from the likes of vintner Jeff Bundschu and are able to offer a three-glass carafe of his Rockus Bockus Syrah from tap for $16. Incredible, right?”

That’s what excites me about wines on tap. The value. Due to the fact that the wine comes in reusable barrels/kegs, there is no cost for bottles, labels, or cartons. The concept is also green with a capital G. The barrel is re-usable and simply needs to be refilled when empty.

Also, since servers don’t have to fuss around pulling corks and recycling bottles, it saves them time and money. This value is passed along to consumers through lower prices. Not only can you pocket a few bucks, you’ll enjoy good wines and be good to Mother Nature. And the wines will stay fresh for months.

The NPA /
The Klean Kanteen container for wine from The NPA
DeLoach Vineyards /
The DeLoach wine-on-tap barrel

City Winery in New York has been not only pouring wines on tap for several years, but making them as well. “We’ve had a very enthusiastic response to the program for several reasons. First, we don't have to add sulfites like we need to for bottling since it is coming straight from winery. We essentially transfer the wine from the barrel when it is ready into stainless steel kegs and use argon to pressurize it up to our taps. As a bar owner, I like the fact we have no waste on our by-the-glass program as the kegs will last for months under this pressure even though we can go through a keg in days,” notes Michael Dorf, founder of the iconic urban winery. “We sold 75,000 glasses of wine in 2010 through our tap system and believe so strongly in the program that at our upcoming Chicago location the main bar will have 20 tap lines from the cellar to the bar.” (I know where I’m headed next visit to the Windy City.)

Taking wine-on-tap to an even more creative level is winemaker Kevin Kelley of The Natural Process Alliance, or the NPA for short. Straight from the tasting room taps, they put their ultra-organic wine into stainless steel containers called Klean Kanteens. Like a local milkman with a twist, the winery team delivers refills weekly to restaurants within 100 miles of the Santa Rosa, California-based winery. As the NPA’s Hardy Wallace says, “Interest in wine on tap and in reusable/ refillable bottles is continuing to grow rapidly. We are at a point though where we still have to over-deliver in quality and give the consumer more than they expect.”

You may not be able to pour from the Klean Kanteens but you can be part of this sipping-savvy trend in other ways.

Jean-Charles Boisset, president of DeLoach Vineyards, is taking his restaurant tap program to home wine lovers. The Barrel-to-Barrel program offers two sizes of barrels (equivalent to four bottles and thirteen bottles) that can be purchased and filled with eco-bags of pinot noir. “We’re delighted to be taking the next step with this revolutionary program by offering it to the public. Now our customers can enjoy our wines at home in a sophisticated, stylish and convenient way that is marked with the DeLoach distinction of quality and sustainability,” says Boisset.

Go ahead … pick up a barrel, practice your tap pull and be the talk of the neighborhood.

Leslie Sbrocco is the author of "The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide" and founder of