Tapping Into the Future of Wine

 
At Sixty Vines, it's not uncommon to see tables sampling a lit bit of everything, from menu items to wine.
At Sixty Vines, it's not uncommon to see tables sampling a lit bit of everything, from menu items to wine. Adam Stewart Photography

Sixty Vines built its restaurant around the once taboo concept of tap wine. The result? They're selling more, saving the planet, and appealing to every generation and price point.

There are times when Chef John Franke will glance around his restaurant and see a table of four sharing 20 glasses of wine. There might be five, perhaps six appetizers, with more on the way. Does this sound like a concept geared toward millennials or high rollers with bottomless bank accounts?

Welcome to the evolving world of wine on tap in the 21st century. In the past, vino was constrained to a cork or a cardboard container. And the latter was essentially synonymous with college parties and get-togethers where expectations were, to put it lightly, a bit diluted. Craft beer by the tap—once a fanciful conception in its own right—is now being offered by the hundreds at some restaurants. Why not wine? It’s a question Franke and his general manager, Justin Beam, are asking, along with a growing number of operators around the industry.

In late August, Franke and Beam helped open Sixty Vines, a concept from the Front Burner Restaurant Group, in Plano, Texas. The idea was five years in the making, Beam says, and constructed around six words: Wine Country cuisine, and wine on tap. The central theme, undeniably, revolves around those final three.

Of the sixty taps in the restaurant, 40 pour wine. A nitro cold brew coffee from Stumptown comes through another, and 19 beers, including three from the company’s brewery, flow out the rest. In addition, there are 12 Coravin systems, which basically turn traditional bottles into taps by pressuring the bottle with argon gas, which in turn prevents oxygen from entering the equation. The result is 60 different wines available by the glass. Overall, there are 125 labels and counting, and guests can try as many as they want, in different sizes, throughout one experience.

“People love it. It’s very interactive and it’s definitely a huge benefit for the guest,” Beam says.

Volume is not the defining factor, he adds. When devising the concept, Sixty Vines paid serious heed to wine’s rather particular relationship with consumers. A telling sign: one of the questions Beam frequently fields is whether or not the restaurant fills their own kegs. That would suggest guests believe the restaurant is hand-pouring wine from bottles into the stainless steel. Simply put, they’re surprised tap wine can taste this good.

“Almost every wholesaler now has a portfolio of wine in keg,” Beam notes. “And we order them. We’ve done a lot of work in the last 15 to 18 months leading up to this not to just have your standard wine in the keg but to have some special stuff.”

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