I have always been a big supporter of tap wines, and it just makes sense for City Winery to serve fresh and good wines by using this technique, being that there are a number of benefits to this system.
We launched our unique tap system with three wine taps in Spring 2009. The winery upgraded to five taps in Spring 2010, and in Summer 2011, the system was upgraded to 11 taps total with the launch of the winery’s Barrel Room.
City Winery probably sells the most volume of tap wine out of all wineries and wine bars on the East Coast.
In Europe, bulk wine “vin en vrac” does not always carry the connotation of poor quality. When you know the right spot and the right wine (either local wineries or a wine shop), buying bulk wine is often a good way to get pleasant everyday wines for a great price. Wine by the tap is similar, but for a winemaker it opens many doors.
Here are some of the benefits behind the tap system.
Lower stress: Wines by the tap do not need to be bottled!! One of the worst tasks for any winemaker is bottling; there are always last-minute problems (not enough glass, not enough labels, incorrect labels, not enough staff, wine plugging during the final filtration, the threat of microbial infection during bottling, equipment breakdowns, etc.). During the winemaking process, we work hard caring for the wines. We witness our wines fermenting and maturing in front of us. This evolution is usually slow and we can influence it if it goes awry. All our attention and care provided over 6 to 18 months can be wasted if we encounter any problems during bottling. No bottling makes our lives easier — I think we can all agree on that!
Minimal SO2: When bottling a wine, most wineries will increase the SO2 content to prevent any chance of microbial infection during bottling and to preserve the wine after bottling — Recall the obvious sulfite odor found in many recently bottled sweet white wines, such as German Riesling. I do not add sulphite before “kegging” any of our tap wines. The wine is stored at 60F and covered with inert argon. We simply don’t need to do anything more to protect the wine.
Truth In wine: Given the wine’s character (our Sauvignon Blanc did not go through malo-latic fermentation), we would have to sterile filter the wine in order to bottle it safely. Such a tight filtration would damage the wine (decrease richness and potentially induce some dryness), but it would be necessary to insure stability of the wine in the long run. Tap wines, however, do not need filtration.
Greener product: With tap wines, there are no supplies (cork, label, foil, bottle, boxes) to purchase, receive and store. As a result, there is no waste, and this product is much greener than traditional bottling. This is a big deal!
Reduced wine losses: There is no need to worry about an oxidized bottle opened last week or unsatisfied customers complaining that our wine is corked. Because it doesn’t go through the bottling process, this isn’t a concern.
More fun / unique wines: There are always some small batches of wine that are odd, but interesting somehow. They are usually light or hard press wines kept separate from the classic free run wines. We are speaking about 15 to maybe 60 gallon lots. In these cases, bottling these small volumes is unrealistic, because bottling costs are high and because there wouldn’t be enough product to market with so few cases. However, with the tap system, we can feature such a wine on tap as a special “barrel/ keg of the week.”
Fewer worries: You can’t even imagine how many ways a wine can go bad in bottle. It rarely happens because we take great care to prevent any potential chemical instability (protein and tartaric precipitation for whites, copper case and color instability for reds, TCA/corked bottles) or microbial instabilities (re-fermentation in bottle, Brettanomyces development in bottle). For example, our Sauvignon Blanc has some fresh aromas of citrus, hawthorn with a lively month feeling — it may not be tartaric stable, meaning than a few harmless tartaric crystals might appear (tartaric crystals do not change the wine’s taste but their appearance may make the wine unmarketable). I do not have to worry about this, though, because the wine is stored at 60F in the cellar and is chilled down to service temperature en route to the tap. Even if a few crystals appear, they will remain in the bottom of the kegs.
Wine education: We can also build educational value from our wines by the tap. For example, we could offer the same wine aged in French vs. American oak barrels to guests. The tap system also enables us a unique way to feature wine in wine flights for educating clients.
The Bottom Line
Wines by the tap make sense for City Winery. This system enables us to prepare our house wines with minimal winemaking intervention: no filtration (or light one if needed), no fining for white wine, no SO2 addition before kegging.
Basically our wines are closer to their true nature — raw.
This system also offers a unique experience for our guests. While other wine-by-the-tap programs are appearing in sophisticated cities at restaurant and retails shops, they cannot offer what City Winery does: We produce wines on site in SoHo. We can take risks others cannot. We can offer one keg of unique wine if it is tasting great on a given week. We can offer a wine at different stages of its life. We can serve our wines fresh and alive since we don’t have to stabilize them for shipment across the continent.
Whether on tap, from a barrel or in bottle, we hope you’ll enjoy a glass of good wine soon. And stop by our Barrel Room to try out some of City Winery’s tap wines.