It may not automatically be associated with quality, but top draught wine is increasingly turning up in high-end venues, delivering excellent selections for less.
A carafe of wine poured from a tap is most likely an unappealing prospect for many wine enthusiasts. But there is something of a groundswell towards draught wine and it’s even happening in serious establishments where its advocates are no slouches on quality.
Melbourne wine bar Harry & Frankie was one of the pioneers, pouring a house red and white on tap since it opened three years ago. “When we first started doing it, people really did turn their noses up at it,” says co-founder and sommelier Tom Hogan. “But the regulars love it because they realise that it’s actually good quality.”
Dave Mackintosh of Arfion in the Yarra Valley assists Tom with the selection of wines. They are specially produced in 300-litre batches and decanted into 30-litre plastic kegs for distribution to Tom’s three venues. By cutting out packaging, transport and distribution costs, Tom says he can offer a much higher-quality product at a reasonable price. Wines on tap at Harry & Frankie sell for $8 a glass and Tom believes a bottled wine of comparable quality would sell at around $14 a glass in many venues.
Of course, the savings on transport and packaging also translate to environmental benefits. This was the primary motivation for Three Blue Ducks to make wine an almost purely draught affair at its Byron Bay venue at The Farm. “Sustainability was a factor in all the decisions that we made,” says Three Blue Ducks’ Jeff Bennett. “Our whole bar is pretty much draught. We have no bottles of beer. We have only tonic water that we buy in a bottle, the rest of the soft drinks we make on site. Our milk comes in bulk and is distributed in bladders.”
As a result, Three Blue Ducks estimates it avoids using up to 20,000 bottles a month. But Jeff says it was not easy to find wineries that were on board with the concept when it launched in March 2015. “I had people laughing at me,” Jeff says. The tables have certainly turned, however. The venue now has the likes of Barossa’s Torbreck supplying bulk wine to the venue. “That was a real watershed. Now if I ring a winery and tell them who else we’ve had on tap, it opens doors. People are a lot more open-minded.”
Three Blue Ducks’ tap wines max out at $14 a glass and have, on occasions, been available for as little as $7 a glass. “You’d have to go to an RSL club to get that otherwise. Ours was from Brash Higgins, a really well-regarded and awarded winery,” Jeff says.
Another of the restaurant’s suppliers is Mudgee’s Lowe Wines, whose founder David Lowe assists venues with the technical set-up of their draught wine systems, as well as supplying them with bulk wine. “We make sure they use the right gas at the right pressure and that the wine is fresh enough,” David says. “We’ll do testing on the wine as soon as we deliver it, and we take a sample every now and then to see if it hasn’t been used in two or three weeks whether it’s still fresh.”
Also on board is Melbourne start-up Stomping Ground Brewery in Collingwood. Co-founder Guy Greenstone says the team was inspired to put its wine on draught after visiting Coopers Hall, a bar in the US beer mecca of Portland, which has no less than 30 taps reserved for wine. “In a beer town, they’ve completely devoted themselves to great wine, but all on tap. They were changing attitudes over there and we liked the idea of leading the way in terms of doing things better here,” Guy says.
Harry & Frankie’s Tom is passionate about getting the word out that when sourced and served correctly, tap wine can be vastly superior to many bottled offerings. “The products that we sell on tap show varietal character and they show regional character,” he says. “They’re made with love and they’re made with care, but they’re purchased and served in such a way that we can reduce costs.”
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