Next time you’re in Manhattan or San Francisco and you see a bartender drawing a glass from a tap, don’t assume it’s beer.
Keg wine is suddenly all the rage—served out of plastic or metal containers that hold up to 25 bottles, kept fresh by the application of nitrogen or argon gas. If you think about it, it’s one of the perfect storage and delivery systems for wine, since it eliminates the inevitable waste and oxidation that occurs with bottles. Kegs aren’t legal in Florida, unfortunately, since the largest container that can legally be sold holds three liters (the equivalent of four bottles).
If you have a long memory, you’re probably thinking that this has been tried before. Paul Masson, Almaden and Anheuser-Busch all experimented with keg wine in the 1970s and 1980s. For the most part, the wine they were selling wasn’t very good. This time around, things are different. Some of the California wineries participating in keg programs include Niebaum-Coppola, Von Strasser and Flowers.
Keg wine is gaining in popularity due to an oversupply of premium wine in California—many wineries simply need to move surplus product, and are willing to give aggressive pricing to make this happen. It’s a dream scenario for restaurants and wine bars. Dozens of eateries in California are now using keg wine, in addition to properties such as the Carneros Inn. The largest user of keg wine in the country is probably a restaurant called Two Urban Licks in Atlanta, which has 42 wines (21 each of white and red) on tap, stored in a 30-foot “wine tower.” In addition to the positive impact on the environment (no bottles, corks or recycling), the wine is significantly fresher.
Even though keg wine is still a niche category in terms of sales, entrepreneurs are jumping in. A San Francisco company called Free Flow covers the Bay Area with a fleet of plastic kegs. N2 Wines, located in St. Helena, has a line of proprietary varietals along with specially built machines to wash, sanitize and fill kegs with them. The NPA (Natural Process Alliance) sells both kegs and 3/4 liter canteens, or the size of a standard wine bottle.
What about that other perfect storage and delivery system for wine—bag-in-box? For years, pundits have predicted that the day was coming when much better wine would be offered in that format, and it appears that day is here. Big House Wines just released a three-liter bag-in-box for $18 in all three flavors (white, red and pink), and we may be certain that even more prestigious wineries will follow suit.