Every winery, from boutique to large-production, will likely be kegging at least some of its wine within the next few years. Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Dos Cabezas WineWorks are two Arizona wineries that are ahead of the curve.
“It just makes sense,” Todd Bostock, owner and winemaker at Dos Cabezas WineWorks, tells me.
To anyone seated at the bar at The Horn Saloon in Camp Verde, a unique dining establishment with 20 wines on tap, it definitely makes sense. “Instead of a table of four deciding on one bottle that everyone will tolerate, each person can order to their taste,” says Stephen Goetting, owner and President of The Horn and a Verde Valley Wine Consortium director. “It also allows customers to try a premium wine without purchasing the entire bottle.”
This is also good news for wait staff and bartenders because wines can be poured more efficiently via the tap system, eliminating the need to uncork a bottle every four or so glasses.
Kris Byrd of Quench Fine Wines set up the wine tap system at The Horn both times—first when they originally opened and then again when they reopened after a monsoon storm collapsed their roof. Stephen was so delighted by the wine tap system that when they rebuilt he more than doubled the number of wines on tap. Now, bottled wine is the exception, not the rule.
When pressed regarding quality, Byrd proudly states that with every blind tasting he has conducted, there has been no difference between bottled and kegged wine. “The wine is kegged under inert gas pressure. We’ve found that Guinness gas, a combination of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, preserves the product as the winemaker intended, without carbonating or contributing to oxidation.” As such, you would also not keg a wine that’s intended to age, but a wine that’s ready to drink now.
Each 19-L keg contains the equivalent of 26 bottles and is good for at least six months, with two months being Quench’s preferred limit once tapped. Even in sleepy Camp Verde, The Horn is replacing kegs at a rapid pace. “We go through a keg [every] one to two weeks,” says Goetting.
While kegging wine is relatively new to Arizona, California has been evolving the practice with filling stations and keg exchange programs. Kegging wine is so popular, in fact, that for a full month last year there were no barrels available—in the entire U.S. Byrd attributes this to both the growing popularity of wine-on-tap and the recent craft brewery explosion.
The new trend has both environmentalists and winery investors giddy. Kegs are reusable. The keg eliminates the need for glass bottles, corks, labels and foil, reducing the carbon footprint of wine. Byrd mentions that wineries see a 25 percent packaging cost reduction when comparing kegs to bottles. Also, kegged wine has no chance of arriving to purveyors “corked,” a wine fault that causes wine to smell of wet, moldy cardboard. Goetting points out that kegged wine is extremely economical from an inventory perspective, taking up half the space of wine cases. Maintenance of kegged wine lines is synonymous with that of beer lines, so bars and restaurants may easily acclimate.
For wineries looking to move their wine to the tap, standard microbrewery kegging setups do the job, as do kegging companies such as Free Flow and N2 out of California. For those wary of moving their wine to kegs, there are pioneers to look toward, such as Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul Hobbs wines are fermented by native yeasts and bottled unfiltered without the use of fining agents. Byrd believes that Paul Hobbs and a select few other purists, premium wine producers, have helped coax Arizona producers to expand to the keg.
The message is clear: If wine-in-a-keg has you thinking wine-in-a-bag, think again. Just check out wines at The Horn, including their own label, or one of the few restaurants in Phoenix hosting wine-on-tap.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Some additional locations around Arizona with wine on tap: Vino Loco (Flagstaff), FnB (Scottsdale), Market Street Kitchen (Scottsdale), Whole Foods Markets (Scottsdale & Chandler), Petite Maison (Scottsdale), Blue Hound Grill (Phoenix), Rancho Pinot Grill (Scottsdale), Lodge on the Desert (Tucson) and Province (Phoenix).
Article by Nathan Brugnone / Photos by Stephanie Peters
Originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Arizona Vines & Wines