wine on tap at Urban Winery

Words: Henry Yuen

What is “Wine on Tap”? How popular is it? Is it similar to draft beer on tap?

When we talk about draft beer, we think of fresh, unpasteurised and poured from a keg through a dispenser. But what about wine on tap? Red, white or rose without bottles? Not very traditional, is it?

The chance was presented for me to find out more about the concept of “Wine-on-Tap” from none other than the industry master David Stansfield, the corporate sommelier for the Daniel Group. With over 15 years in the wine industry, David is a French Wine Scholar, a wine instructor and a consultant on wine programs for restaurants; and probably the best person to tell us more about this relatively new wine concept.  

  1. How popular is the "wine on tap" program? Is Vancouver the pioneer in Canada? Are there any countries or places/cities already have "wine on tap" service for a while?

“Wine-on-Tap is immensely popular in Vancouver and has gone from a novelty to an industry standard in just over a year! New restaurants now build their bars to showcase taps, an attraction by itself. In my opinion, this recent emerge of wine-on-tap represents a vogue change in restaurant wine service in Vancouver towards a fresher, better wine experience. Vancouver is very much the pioneer in Canada in wine-on-tap. Like we did with Ocean Wise, the city has launched then embraced a fresh approach that will spread eastward. Our city’s proximity to and passionate support of local wines helps explain our willingness to be the spear head.  A ton of credit goes to BC’s wineries who fearlessly embraced a new technology which puts consumers first. Though we’re pioneering the movement in Canada, we’re not the first internationally to introduce wine-on-tap. It’s (almost) already quite popular all over the world, with major strongholds in other west coast cities near wine-growing centres, like San Francisco and Portland.”

2.       What do you see are the challenges "wine on tap" program has to conquer? Setup cost? Getting wine drinker to buy in? Getting restaurants to buy in? Wine quality?

“The growth of wine-on-tap is not without obstacles. For restaurants, it represents another start-up cost or the cost of a retro-fit, which can be tough to bear at first. The taps ultimately pay for themselves once the wine starts flowing, but before then it can seem costly. At least in Vancouver, consumers have taken to it like fish to water. The Tap & Barrel, the leading restaurant purveyor of wine-on-tap, has seen next to no negative reaction from wine drinkers. In fact, the opposite is true. Tap wine outsells bottles by a margin of over 10 to 1”.

3.       What benefit do wine drinkers get from the "wine on tap" program? Price point, more refreshing, etc.?

“The main benefit of wine-on-tap to consumers is the quality of the wine in their glass. It’s generally fresher than the same wine poured from a bottle. This means more aroma, more flavour, more of what you want from a wine. It’s the closest thing to drinking it straight from the source”.

4.       Do wineries have to alter any of their wine-making process to adapt to the "wine on tap" program?

“The only major thing wineries have to consider when “kegging” rather than bottling is to ensure   their wines are ready to be sipped at that moment. Some wines – a very small amount – need to mature in bottles before they’re ready to serve. These wines aren’t right for wine-on-tap. They’re meant for cellars”.

5.       Is Urban Winery the only operation in Vancouver to facilitate the "wine on tap" service to restaurants?

“While a small handful of BC wineries are kegging on their own, the Vancouver Urban Winery is by far and away the primary packager of wine in kegs for wine-on-tap. Moreover, they’re helping drive the market through their savvy promotion of wine-on-tap and through the use of their winery as an educational, wine-tasting facility”.

6.       Besides Tap & Barrel, what other restaurants are using your "wine of tap" service.

“There are over 50 restaurants using FreshTAP wine-on-tap kegs in Greater Vancouver alone. The most wine flows through the Tap & Barrel’s well-stocked bars, but I have a few other favourites. In Chinatown, a very small and very cute sausage and beer (and wine!) parlour just opened up on East Pender across from New Town Bakery called Bestie. They offer both colours of wine on tap, red and white. Another new restaurant, this time with some familiar faces in the kitchen, just opened in Railtown across from Sunshine Market. It’s called Cuchillo. They serve an incredible selection of Latin American tapas and offer eight wines on tap from a stunning black steel bar. The original local restaurant to offer wine-on-tap is GranvilleIsland’s Edible Canada. They’re a favourite lunch spot of mine, always followed by a trip to Lee’s Donut’s in the Market”.Edible Canada front

7.       How would you compare "wine on tap" to "box wine"?

“The differences between wine-on-tap and box wine are plentiful and important. While box wine does offer an environmentally friendly way to serve wine and does now feature some high quality wines, it’s constructed from very different materials, namely a plastic bag inside of a cardboard box. They keep wine fresher than opened bottles, but not by nearly the same margin as wine kegs. Moreover, after use, they still have to be broken down and recycled while wine kegs are cleaned and refilled. Wine-on-tap, on the other hand, flows from stainless steel wine kegs that are equipped with a supply of neutral gas which ensures wines freshness for upwards of six months after being tapped. They are, in effect, like a smaller, service-size version of the stainless steel tanks that wineries use to produce and store their wine. It’s the best way to offer wine-by-the-glass.”

8.       Would smaller restaurants be able to benefit from the program since the setup seems to require quite a bit of capital cost and infrastructure?

“Even small restaurants can benefit from installing wine-on-tap. In fact, it solves a number of problems unique to small restaurants. The kegs are remarkably compact considering the amount of wine they contain (a couple of bottles over two cases worth, or 19.5 litres) thus saving storage and service space. For small restaurants that don’t serve a lot of wine, they ensure that the wine you do serve is as fresh as possible while eliminating the waste that comes with having little-used, opened wine bottles sitting around at the back.”

You bet there're  lots of upsides to wine-on-tap.  Go ahead wine lovers ,  try it yourselves, form your own opinion. With such nice weather in Vancouver recently, there is no better place to order a glass of on-tap wine. Cheers!