KEGS ARE the ultimate green way to drink wine, and a few Washington wineries are doing their best to bring the fruits of their vineyards to a tap near you.
Wineries such as Milbrandt, Terra Blanca, Bunnell, Piccola and Alexandria Nicole Cellars are supplying restaurants and bars in the Greater Seattle area with keg wines, a strategy that virtually eliminates waste.
Wine kegs hold 5.16 gallons of wine, the equivalent of 26 bottles or 140 5-ounce glass pours. This means a restaurant doesn’t need shelf space for 26 bottles, nor does it need to dispose of those bottles or waste any wine that becomes oxidized after a couple of days.
Kristine Bono is the “keg slinger” for Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Woodinville, and she says that in the past six months, the Puget Sound keg-wine scene has become extremely popular. Alexandria Nicole has about 200 kegs and has ordered another 300 from Germany.
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The winery offers five wines for restaurant taps (or “handles” in keg parlance), including chardonnay, viognier and a white blend called Shepherds Mark, as well as a red blend and a cabernet sauvignon. Management plans to offer a syrah and merlot in the near future.
While many companies offering keg wines use bulk wines — especially from California — to fill them, Alexandria Nicole and other Washington wineries use their own high-quality wines, the same wines customers will find on wine merchants’ shelves or in tasting rooms.
In the case of Alexandria Nicole, owner Jarrod Boyle has invested in a high-quality device that sanitizes, then fills a keg. It is at the winery’s vineyard and production facility south of the Yakima Valley in the Horse Heaven Hills. Once a week, a truck delivers empty kegs to Eastern Washington and returns with full kegs to Woodinville.
The wine inside a keg is good for 60 days, though most restaurants and bars will go through a keg every one or two weeks, depending on how popular by-the-glass pours are and how active their happy-hour crowds are.
Bono knows of at least 250 restaurants and bars from Tacoma to Everett that have wine-keg programs. Her top customer is Polaris at the Bellevue Club, which has six handles for wine pours. She said Jazz Alley in Seattle turns over a keg every 10 days, while Zeek’s Pizza on Queen Anne goes through the equivalent of a keg every week from its two handles.
While wine taps are hot, they compete for space with beer and cider. All three beverages use different kinds of kegs and fixtures, but bars tend to have limited space.
Wineries also are providing wine kegs for private parties, including weddings, because the cost is lower than buying bottles.
Interested in trying a wine on tap? Ask your favorite restaurant or bar if they are in on this trend.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com. Mike Siegel is a Times staff photographer.