You drive into some tiny village, walk into the local brasserie and order the set menu for lunch. A carafe of wine, pumped from a barrel and probably made in the barn of some fellow down the road, is plunked down on your table. Your bill? Around $25 for two.
That’s how Thierry Rautureau remembers doing things in his native France, and that’s the experience he wanted to re-create at Luc, his casual Madison Park eatery. So he turned to his winemaker down the road, Paul Beveridge, owner of Madrona’s Wilridge Winery. “I told Paul I wanted a carafe of wine on every table. Two glasses shouldn’t cost more than $10,” Rautureau says.
His timing was perfect. It was August 2010, the recession still slogging on, and Beveridge was working on a cheaper, greener and more efficient packaging concept he says no one in the state of Washington had done before (legally), though it was already becoming popular in New York and the Bay Area. “People were still drinking wine,” says Beveridge. “They were drinking more than ever. They just didn’t want to pay as much.”
Beveridge, who normally sells bottles for between $16 and $29, began eschewing traditional wine bottles and corks for 20-liter pony-size stainless steel kegs that restaurants could keep tapped behind the bar. When poured from the taps at Luc, his Wilridge Maison blends, a red and white that he says are comparable in quality to his pricier wines, cost $10 for a 10-ounce half-carafe. Winery customers can also buy the kegs ($260 for about 26 bottles) and refillable 1.5-liter magnum bottles ($20, plus a $8 bottle fee; also available at area Whole Foods).
Though the concept isn’t new, modern technology makes serving wines on tap a game changer. The winery’s packaging and shipping costs are drastically reduced, as is the carbon footprint. Inert gas in the kegs keeps the wine fresh for six months or longer, so bars and restaurants never have to pour wine down the drain. Bar owners are thrilled to pass the savings on to their customers. “I wouldn’t normally open up an $80 bottle and offer it by the glass,” says Henri Schock, owner of Bottlehouse in Madrona. But having three wines on tap enables him to offer glass pours of that caliber.
Other Northwest wineries have jumped in, including Woodinville’s Hestia Cellars, Syncline in the Columbia Valley, Lake Chelan Winery and Oregon’s A to Z Wineworks. The list of restaurants serving tap wine is growing, too; Bottlehouse (Madrona), Black Bottle (Downtown/Bellevue) and Locöl Barley and Vine (West Seattle), to name just a few. At Skillet Diner on Capitol Hill, Proletariat’s keg wine (served in a Mason jar) is the only option.
Darin Williams of Woodinville-based wine distributor Small Lot has been signing on two to three new keg wine clients a week since March, when his company started its own Walla Walla winery, Proletariat—a name that honors the accessibility of keg wine. “Wine should be for the people, not just the rich,” says Williams. He has brought in Sean Boyd, winemaker of Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla, to craft the Proletariat blends: four reds and four whites, all sourced from Washington grape growers. At Locöl, Proletariat and another tap wine, La Botte Piccola, have been so popular that the bar is going through two kegs a week—the equivalent of about 160 glasses, says Locöl’s Allison Workman. “Customers love it,” she says. “It’s greener, and the wine is really good.”
Woodinville’s La Botte Piccola Wine Company is now working with winemakers from J & S Crush and Edmonds Winery to distribute its own custom wines under the Piccola Cellars label. It’s also planning to allow customers to buy pony-size kegs from Locöl Barley and Vine (kegged wine can last for months at home, as long as it’s kept under pressure). At Piccola’s new Woodinville tasting room, the 1- or 1.5-liter bottles offered are refillable. “Unless it’s a wine that you want to mature for a while, the bottle just isn’t necessary,” says Diana Kaspic, owner of La Botte Piccola. And kegs, she says, are just the beginning. Her next project: refillable leather wineskin bags you can take camping.
Where to try local tap wines:
Madrona, 1416 34th Ave.; 206.708.7164; bottlehouseseattle.com
Proletariat (Washington), Covington Cellars (Woodinville), Wilridge Winery (Seattle)
Belltown, 2600 First Ave.; 206.441.1500; blackbottleseattle.com
La Botte Piccola (Woodinville)
The Local Vine
Capitol Hill, 1410 12th Ave.; 206.257.5653; thelocalvine.com
J. Scott Cellars (Oregon)
Locöl Barley and Vine
West Seattle, 7902 35th St. SW; 206.708.7725; locolseattle.com
Proletariat, La Botte Piccola
Bellevue, 505 Bellevue Square; 425.454.6862; munchgroup.com
La Botte Piccola, Lake Chelan Winery (Chelan), Edmonds Winery
The Palace Kitchen
Belltown, 2030 Fifth Ave.; 206.448.2001; tomdouglas.com
Northwest Vine Project (Oregon and Washington)
Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie
Pike Place, 2010 Western Ave.; 206.436.0390; tomdouglas.com
Syncline Cellars, Northwest Vine Project, A to Z Wineworks (Oregon)
Capitol Hill, 1400 E Union St.; 206.420.7297