Wine has always been tapped from barrels. Rarely though, except at a winery, can you drink it that way. That is changing as more California winemakers are packaging wine in multi-gallon kegs and restaurants junk bottles for tap systems. Draft wine is theoretically more environmentally friendly as wine packaging elements, like bottles, corks or screwcaps, boxes, and labels, are not needed: instead reusable kegs are returned to the winery and refilled.
For the wine drinker at ordering a glass, there's a big plus--wine with a flavor profile that's as close as possible to just out of the barrel or tank. An added benefit: there's never a question or an awkward moment trying to decide if the wine has had enough time to breathe or worse case scenario, corked or gone off. Since 2008, Santa Barbara Winery's Palmina Winery (makers of Italian-style varietals) has partnered with Sang Yoon and Father's Office Culver City. There you can try eight wines on tap, among the choices are Palmina's Honea Vineyard Lagrein, a zesty red and Melville's Inox Chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel.
"Wines that tend to drink better young, are great candidates for the keg program," explains Mat Duggan general manger of Palmina Winery. Palmina's kegs are now in more than 30 restaurants including Lukshon (where there are eight exceptional wines on tap) and Burbank's Tony's Darts Away that serves up Palmina's Dolcetto. "Our wine on tap program is so successful, we literally run out of wine before we can get it," says owner Tony Yanow. Like Tony's California craft beer selection, the three wines on tap change seasonally. "People are really surprised by how good the wine is," finds Yanow who, like Sang Yoon, works with major vintners. (Tony's first supplier was stellar winemaker Kris Curran.) Wine is sold by the glass and by the liter carafe ($36). Look for even more wines on tap (six total) at Yanow's Mohawk Bend in Echo Park.
In the mini-ecotopia of Santa Barbara, wine-on-tap also means take-home growlers. Tucked into the corner of Municipal Winemakers playfully decorated tasting room, a modish, cute stop on Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail, is a three-tap wine fountain where winemaker Dave Potter changes up varietals frequently. (Rosé and Counoise were on tap earlier this year and soon--Chenin Blanc). Tap wine is $7/glass. You can buy a refillable brown glass growler for $25; when you bring the growler back, subsequent refills are $20.
There's much science behind why wine stays fresh and consistent in taste in kegs: via an airtight system (no oxygen) wine is pumped into kegs, sealed and pressurized with nitrogen or argon. Because wine has a low ph, bacteria growth is prohibited. Kept at the proper cool temperature, wines could last for up to a year (or more) in keg. Unlike opened bottles that have a brief shelf life, there's no spoilage.
Draught wine is an expanding trend. Recently, BLVD 16 at Westwood's Hotel Palomar added four of Sonoma Winery Silvertap's wines (priced at $6/glass). Intermezzo at the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara has 14 taps. And Tender Greens in Santa Monica (slated to open in June) will be completely bottle-less and have six taps. Palmina's Duggan predicts, "In 10 years, the majority of wine by the glass programs will be on a tap system."