Philadelphia has long been known for its devotion to good beer. So, it’s not unusual to see a line of draft pulls at local bars. It is unusual, however, to see wine coming out of that tap.
But thanks to a change in Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulations, that sight is slowly becoming more common.
PLCB now allows wine to be sold in containers larger than five liters. That gives flexibility for direct sales to Pennsylvania licensed wineries and enables draft wine to be sold in bars across the state.
Terry Berch McNally’s Paris Wine Bar, opened last February next door to her landmark London Grill in Fairmount, was the first eatery in the region to serve keg wine.
Berch had seen draft wine in New York and felt that it made wine friendlier and more accessible. “Tapping” into local wines, she said, allows her to drive to the wineries and have the kegs filled directly. The ritual helps establish a relationship with area winemakers.
“This has a very European feel, drinking the wine that is grown here,” said Berch. “It emphasizes that wine is more an agricultural product.”
This month, Mount Airy’s Earth Bread + Brewery began a keg wine program. The Germantown Avenue restaurant currently serves two wines from Karamoor Estate Wines in nearby Fort Washington in Montgomery County – a Chardonnay and a Petit Verdot red blend.
A five-ounce glass is $7 and a half-liter carafe (three and a half glasses) is $20. Both pair well with the restaurant’s signature flatbreads baked in their wood oven.
Science and sustainability
Earth Bread owners Pegger Zwerver and her husband, Tom Baker, have a commitment to having a sustainable, green business. Keg wine, notes Zwerver, fits into that philosophy.
“There’s no packaging and the kegs are refillable,” she said. “The wine also lasts longer because it is under pressure.”
Baker is well known for his micro-brews – there are house drafts on tap in addition to 11 others from outside brewerie – so installing the wine kegs and maintaining them has been an easy transition.
The science behind the keg wine system is, however, slightly different.
“While draft systems use carbon dioxide to push beer out of the tap, it is also maintaining the balance of the carbonation that is present in the beer. Since this isn’t needed for dispensing wine, nitrogen with a small amount of carbon dioxide is used,” explained Zwerver.
In addition, unlike opening a bottle of wine which begins to change after it’s exposed to oxygen, the wine coming out of the tap will be the same glass after glass until the keg is empty.
“While the pomp and circumstance of opening a bottle of wine is pleasurable, in the environment of a casual restaurant, having the opportunity to experience a fresh, fruit forward wine by the glass is also attractive,” said Victor Ykoruk, sales manager for Karamoor.
Both Zwerver and Paris Wine Bar’s Berch observed that draft wine is helping promote local Pennsylvania wineries. It allows the wineries to easily distribute their product in a large volume. The lack of packaging costs also keeps the price lower so smaller operations can stay competitive in terms of price per glass.
“This is really changing the perception of Pennsylvania wines,” said Zwerver. “There’s a good amount of surprise about the quality of these wines.”