For hundreds of years, wine lovers have pulled corks out of glass bottles to imbibe their favorite libation.
But a Florida business and a California entrepreneur are hoping Florida lawmakers will let them replace the age-old practice with a technology more commonly associated with toga parties on college campuses.
Wine on tap may soon be coming to bars and restaurants throughout the state under bills (HB 623, SB 658) edging towards passage that would do away with a Prohibition-rooted law that caps the size of wine containers at 3 liters.
Florida and Utah are the only states that bar the wine canisters, an emerging trend that the National Restaurant Association last year tapped as the hottest thing happening in the wine world.
For oenophiles, wine on tap means that every glass is as fresh as the first poured out of a newly opened bottle, according to the manufacturers of the taps and the kegs.
The kegs also hold an appeal for the environmentally conscious. They hold the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine and are reusable, with no bottles to toss in the trash heap or recycle.
The idea that wine has to be stored in a glass bottle is old-school, said Jordan Kivelstadt, founder and CEO of Free Flow Wines, the Sonoma, Calif.-based company that makes the kegs and is lobbying for Florida to change its wine container law.
“If I came to you today and you didn’t know how wine was packaged and I said I’m going to put this really fragile liquid in a glass bottle and stuff dead tree bark in the top … you would say that can’t be the best way to do this,” said Kivelstadt, who also owns a small winery.
The kegs are slightly pressurized with a gas that protects the wine from oxidation and cork taint and ultimately maintains the wine’s integrity, Kivelstadt said. The wine in the refrigerated “kegerators” stays fresh for up to six weeks, he said.
By-the-glass orders make up as much as 80 percent of the wine sold in restaurants, and some Palm Beach County restaurateurs believe that the kegs could be a boon for business.
“I think it’s a good idea. You have a lot less waste. It’s a much better preservation system than the old way of the vacuum corks,” said Brett Hart, general manager of Tapas Fusion in Lantana where wine by the glass is the most popular item on the menu.
Tapping wine is a more organic method than using carbon dioxide and other gases to preserve open bottles, Hart said.
And, he said, the kegs evoke a “return to roots” of speakeasy days when proprietors used to store liquor in barrels on the bar.
“I think you’ll see those pop up in some pretty cool wine bars around here,” Hart said.
Diego Nassisi, general manager of Vic & Angelo’s in Delray Beach, said he would be willing to experiment with the kegged wines.
“If the quality is better in these kegs, then why not?” said Nassisi, who grew up stomping grapes on his grandfather’s vineyard in Puglia, Italy. “It looks like it’s going to cut costs for the restaurants. That’s a win-win for the customer. They’d get a better product.”
Free Flow sells 120 wines, ranging from larger labels such as Beringers to small, boutique ones like Lioco.
Corks expose wine to oxygen, a benefit for wines that improve with aging like Bordeaux and Barolo. But oxygen dulls wines meant to be drunk soon after bottling – about 90 percent of all wine.
“Wine just doesn’t cellar like it used to. So I don’t think the modern consumer would really have a big concern about the lack of the bottle or the cork. I think people are just drinking it as fast as they can,” said David Panella, general manager of The Office in Delray Beach.
Panella said he “absolutely would be interested” in adding wine kegs to the 39 beers on tap at The Office.
“We’re constantly trying to retool and figure out what’s hot,” he said.
The different packaging could also save customers money.
Putting wine into a keg instead of a bottle eliminates labels, boxes and printing and packaging costs. But packaging the kegs is an expensive process and the savings for retailers could be as little as two cents an ounce, Kivelstadt said.
Restaurants using the taps are choosing to increase their profit, pass the savings along to the customer or offer a better glass of wine for a lower price, he said.
Cian Hickey, director of national accounts at Micro Matic, the Brooksville company that manufactures taps, is giddy about the prospect of free-flowing wine in Florida.
Many national chain restaurants won’t use wine kegs in other states unless Florida adopts the new law because the chains want consistency in their product lines, Hickey said.
“Florida is a very important state from a chain business perspective,” Hickey said. “So it is very important that the bill passes and this product becomes available. It will open up the opportunities for more restaurants not only in Florida but for many of the chains to do this in one of their key markets.”
While wine lovers may have a reason to rejoice this session, beer drinkers don’t. Beer distributors appeared to have killed a measure that would have legalized 64-ounce beer containers known as growlers. Craft beer aficionados wanted to be able to bring the containers to breweries to fill up and take home. Current law allows refillable 32-ounce and one gallon jugs, but the more popular half-gallon size is prohibited.
The House unanimously approved its wine bill March 22 and the Senate version could come up for avote next week.
The fact that the wine measure is poised for passage is an anomaly in Tallahassee, where the powerful liquor industry usually quashes anything that would affect its distribution system.
Southern Wine & Spirits removed its opposition to the wine measure after it was restricted to allow only standard, 5.6 gallon kegs. The industry had objected about the cost to retro-fit its trucks and warehouses to accommodate other size containers.
“The distributors are very concerned about anything that changes their business model, which is why none of these bills ever move,” said Slater Bayliss, Free Flow’s Florida lobbyist. “The distributor community, which is obviously a very, very powerful lobby, sees any alcohol-related bill that moves as a potential vehicle to undo their entire business model.”
Other alcohol-related bills
Beer coupons (SB 864, HB 695): Would ban discount coupons for beer purchases. Proponents say coupons are subject to fraud because vendors can redeem them with the manufacturer or importer without proving the savings was passed to the customer. On House calendar, still in committees in Senate.
Beer “growlers” (SB 1344, HB 715): Sponsor says it’s dead for the session, as it has had no House committee hearings. Would have allowed 64-ounce containers to be filled at brew pubs for off-premises consumption. Current law limits “growlers” to 32-ounces or one gallon.
Craft distilleries (SB 642, HB 347): Would allow small distilleries that manufacture 75,000 gallons or less per year to sell two bottles of liquor per year to customers who visit the distillery. On House calendar, still in committees in Senate.
House parties (SB 874, HB 5): Would expand the places where a person has to take reasonable steps to ensure that a minor doesn’t drink alcoholic beverages from the current “residence” to include property such as garages or open fields. In committees in both chambers.