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Tapping into kegged wine

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If you can deliver beer from a keg, why not wine? The notion is not new – at least one Margaret River wine bar was doing it more than a decade ago.

But Australian bars and restaurants haven’t taken it up with quite the same fervor as venues in North America and Europe. But that could be about to change. Buoyed perhaps by the burgeoning craft beer movement, wine on tap is gaining traction.

An increasing number of venues are convinced there are economic and environmental benefits without any sacrifice in quality.

Fresh as a daisy
Technically speaking, wine in a keg should last a long time. It’s in a large vessel and there’s no light or oxygen to spoil it. Most wines are ready to drink and can be tapped without compromise, according to Kirsty Marek, direct sales and marketing manager for Swings & Roundabouts.

The winery has six wines on tap at its Swings Taphouse & Kitchen in Margaret River, which opened in December last year. All are quality wines made in a drink-now style: Shiraz, Cabernet Merlot, Rosé (which won a trophy at the Melbourne Wine Show last year), Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (“our best-selling wine for sure”), Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

For Harry & Frankie’s Tom Hogan, wine on tap has been an unequivocal success.

“We really wanted to offer something to a general punter at good quality but that came in at a lower price point (than bottled wine),” he said. “By taking out distribution, labelling and transport costs, we managed to get the price down.”

Hogan has had Pinot Grigio and Shiraz on tap since his wine bar opened in Port Melbourne late last year.

The Yarra Valley Pinot Grigio is specifically made for him by Dave Mackintosh and the Harcourt (Bendigo) Shiraz by Bress Wines. Serving it from a keg means he can offer it at $7 a glass or $20 per half-litre carafe.

Ecologically sustainable
The wine bottling process uses a huge amount of resources including bottles, corks, screwcaps, foils, labels, boxes and pallets.

Twenty-four empty bottles weigh more than four times as much as an empty keg, and therefore have a much bigger carbon footprint. Kegs eliminate packaging, are reusable and reduce transportation emissions significantly.

Easy to use
Pouring wine from a tap is quicker and easier than fussing with bottles. There is less chance of wastage, less storage space needed and fewer safety concerns from broken bottles.

Wine on tap is ideal for wines served by the glass or carafe. The wine can be stored without oxidation and then served at the desired temperature – much more reliable than wine from a bottle that has been open for a while.

It’s all in the tasting
Hogan says they have had no negative comments, although they had to battle some preconceptions initially. “The trick is getting people to taste it. Provenance really makes a difference,” he said.

It was unfortunate that some venues used wine on tap as an avenue for getting rid of bulk wine. “That sullies the product.” Does he think wine on tap will take off in Australia? “It depends on whether people have the same commitment to it as we do.”

Kirsty Marek agrees the perception is that “if you’ve got wine on tap it’s a house wine and not good quality”. It’s a re-education process, she said.

Customers had been really receptive to the wine on tap at Swings Taphouse. “We haven’t had any negative comments at all.”

Kirsty said that as well as the environmental and economic reasons, the company had been “really interested in experimenting” with wine on tap. “It’s an exciting project for our winemakers to sink their teeth into.”

After looking at popular venues in North America and Europe, Swings created its own bespoke system to achieve the quality it wanted. This includes “sight glass fonts” that allow customers to see the colour of the wine through the taps - an important aspect of wine appreciation.

The winery had conducted blind tastings and found that people couldn’t taste the difference between wine from the keg and bottled wine, Kirsty said.

Just as customers were initially sceptical but are now accepting of screwcaps, wine on tap will surely catch on. While bottles will always be in people’s hearts, especially for ageing wines, wine on tap might revolutionise the way wine is delivered.

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