I’ve written about wine on tap a number of times on the blog. It’s one of those trends I hope becomes the norm at restaurants across Canada. Why? Because it’s environmentally friendly, you are always assured of a fresh pour and it makes good economic sense.
And with FreshTAP coming to Ontario, the opportunity to have local wine on tap has expanded greatly. This is a way to keep local wines cost-effective for restaurants and for patrons – something I’m definitely in favour of.
With wine on tap there’s zero waste when it comes to wine—there’s never a need to throw out a bottle that’s been open too long, nothing is ever corked and the wine is always fresh. The kegs, which hold the equivalent of 26 bottles, are good for 20 years and the program ensures that they are cleaned to the highest standards using a 15-stage sterilization program, and installed using exacting specifications.
I recently had the chance to talk to Allan Schmidt of Vineland Estates, who has been instrumental in bringing wine on tap to the province. Vineland Estates was actually the first winery in Ontario to make wine on tap a priority and they are leading the charge with FreshTAP. Allan had seen the process in Manhattan and was impressed with how it was being used for even very expensive wines. After looking into it more, he realized it was a great fit for Ontario.
“The slogan sums it up,” he says. “Smarter, fresher friendlier. It’s smarter because it reduces restaurant costs, fresher because it reduces the chance of oxidized wines normally associated with wine by the glass programs, and friendlier because of the waste reduction for the restaurant and the planet.”
The wines available on tap at a recent event
Restaurants are already excited about the prospect, as it makes service easier for them and is a cost-effective option. And Ontario wineries have been signing up quickly. The laws in Ontario mean that only VQA wines can be served on tap, but so far that hasn’t affected interest from wineries.
For Fielding Estates Winery, wine on tap works well. “FreshTap is a great system for both wineries and licensees that have invested in the system,” says Fielding winemaker Richie Roberts. “On our end it’s a great alternative to traditional packaging because the wine tastes exactly as it does coming from tank. Even as the wine level in the keg gets lower, it’s well protected by a layer of inert gas, the exact same as when we work with large-scale tanks in the winery.
“Customers get to taste the wine exactly as we intended, without any risk of faulted wines from closure issues or a bottle being open for too long,” he continues. “In addition, we eliminate almost all the packaging associated with traditional wine bottles. The keg is returned after use, sanitized, and used again. This reduces both the shipping weight and amount that is recycled. From a restaurants’ perspective, wines on tap are a great alternative to having bottles kicking around for by-the-glass pours. Wine stays fresher longer, there is never any wasted wines, and the packaging takes up much less space behind the bar. Restaurants that we are working with are extremely happy with the results, which is encouraging for both FreshTAP and Fielding. Personally, I‘d love to see wines on tap continue to grow.”
And while most of the wineries currently signed up for FreshTAP are from Niagara, Allan sees the program expanding to include other wine regions very soon. “We have already had enquiries from Prince Edward County,” he says. “However, this year there is a shortage of wines available due to the cold winter damage from the last two years.”
And for those who worry that wine on tap will be coming out of beer taps, fear not. The system is designed to be wine friendly and taps are set up using a completely different set of standards. A restaurant can’t simply use wine kegs in their beer system – FreshTAP is created specifically for wine and installed by a team that ensures quality is paramount. They know if the system is set up poorly and the wine doesn’t taste great, the program can’t be successful.
There are also only certain wines that will work for kegging. Since wines don’t age or develop in kegs, they have to go in at the exact time they are ready for drinking. That eliminates some wines as good options for the program, but ensures we will always keep up the tradition of aging amazing reds and other special wines in bottles.
“All wines benefit from storing in stainless kegs, just like a winemaker stores them at the winery,” says Allan. “But aromatic white wines retain their youthful fruit forward style far longer in a keg then in a bottle exposed to air ullage.”
With more than 100 restaurants currently adopting the program, it looks like this is a trend that’s here to stay. I’m definitely hopeful and looking forward to seeing more wine on tap programs offering VQA when I’m out for dinner.