There has been a quiet revolution going on in the wine world that has been flying below the radar of most wine folks.
Over the last several years, the adoption of wine on tap has been slowly taking place. I reported on one such establishment, the gloriously cute Bin702 on March 14. Wine on tap isn’t meant to elicit the same response from a wine aficionado as, say, a bottle of Petrus…far from it. It’s meant to be the drink of choice for casual friends just enjoying each other’s company or for someone who just wants a glass of wine. No pondering necessary. Just like beer on tap.
While this development has been taking place, people have been wondering how they can take some of these wines home with them. Beer lovers, after all, get to have growlers filled with their favorite beer on tap and take them home for their personal enjoyment. Why not wine folks? (By the way, I know that “kegger” is a party, not an actual keg. It fits better…)
The idea is far from unprecedented. People in the “Old World” have been able to go to their local wine merchants and fill up jugs of wine for family enjoyment for quite some time. You will see people pouring glasses – as in tumblers – of wine from these jugs at the family table where everyone, children included, will enjoy it with their meals. Wine is food over there. It is here, too, but the government doesn’t think so. But that’s a rant for another day.
Recently, the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the regulatory body of those items, released a statement on the topic of wines in growlers. Their statement:
The filling of wine growlers or similar containers with taxpaid wine for consumption off of the premises is considered bottling or packing under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (IRC), and any person who engages in this activity must first qualify as a taxpaid wine bottling house and also must comply with all requirements applicable to taxpaid wine bottling houses, including labeling and recordkeeping requirements under the IRC and the regulations in 27 CFR part 24.
What does that mean?
The decision came about because of the increasing interest people have in being able to fill growlers with wine just as they do with beer. Proprietors and private citizens alike were asking about this possibility, so the TTB decided to address it.
The TTB felt that the laws regarding the transporting of wine in a sealed, labeled container did not hold in this instance. Their conclusion:
Held, the filling of growlers or similar containers with taxpaid wine for the purpose of consumption off of the premises is considered bottling or packing under the IRC and is an activity that may be conducted lawfully only by a qualified taxpaid wine bottling house. Such activity is subject to all of the provisions applicable to taxpaid wine bottling houses under the IRC and 27 CFR part 24, including the labeling and recordkeeping requirements in those regulations. These requirements apply regardless of whether the containers are provided by the consumer or the retailer/proprietor and regardless of whether the containers are filled before or after the sale occurs.
Held further, the labeling requirements of the FAA Act and ABLA do not apply to growlers or similar containers, provided that the taxpaid wine is sold to the consumer prior to being placed in the growler in the presence of the consumer. Consumers may furnish their own growler or may purchase it from the proprietor. However, any such containers that are filled in advance of the sale of the wine are subject to all applicable requirements of the FAA Act and ABLA, in addition to the requirements of the IRC.
Date signed: March 11, 2014
The complete ruling, including a brief summary of the history, the law, and the rationale behind the TTB’s decision can be found here.
So what is a “taxpaid wine bottle house” and how does it affect a person’s ability to be able to purchase wine in growler?
According to the United States Code (26 U.S. Code § 5352), the definition of a Taxpaid Wine Bottle House is as follows;
Any person bottling, packaging, or repackaging taxpaid wines shall, before commencing such operations, make application to the Secretary and receive permission to operate. Such premises shall be known as “tax-paid wine bottling houses.”
Okay. Fine. What is “taxpaid wine”?
Wine on which the tax, imposed by law, has been determined regardless of whether the tax has been paid or whether the payment has been deferred. (TTB, Glossary)
This is good news for anyone who’s ever wanted to be able to fill a growler of wine like his beer friends fill theirs with beer.
The problem is, of course, that there aren’t a lot of places that serve wine on tap. But that is changing, thanks to establishments like Bin702.
According to Bin702’s Wine Goddess Kat, many wine houses have been hesitant to fully embrace wine on tap because of problems of storage and preservation. For instance, the balance of the Nitrogen and CO² used to ensure freshness in the wine could cause the wine to go all funky if the mixture leaned too heavily towards the Nitrogen (see Molly Dooker Shake). It has taken some time, but the technology is in place to ensure that a glass of wine from a tap is just as good – or better – than wine from a bottle. With my limited experience in that regard, I can attest that so far, that appears to be true.
On first glance, this may not seem to be a great way to serve wine. How could it?
From a financial standpoint, this is a terrific way to serve wine.
For the winery, the wine is safely encased under a blanket of inert gasses to protect it from oxidation. The costs of bottles, closures, cartons are immediately saved.
For the restaurant, there is no more throwing away of bottles that have been opened, where the wine will be too stale to keep for the next day’s business.
For the customer, the wines from the tap are going to be the correct temperature and are not going to be oxidized or stale. Because the kegs are made of stainless steel (usually – there are some plastic kegs), the customer is assured that it won’t be tainted by plastic polymer byproducts. While the lines used are by necessity made of plastic, the wine just flows through and doesn’t have prolonged contact.
In other words, these are all of the reasons why people prefer beer on tap rather than out of cans and bottles. Logical? I think so.
Unsurprisingly, California has led in this regard, which makes perfect sense. California makes 90% of the wine in the United States, and it’s only natural that they’d want to get their ready-to-drink wines in the hands – or glasses – of the consumers in the most efficient way possible. Other states, especially those that are tourist destinations like Florida, have also taken up the wine-on-tap banner.
So other than Bin702, are there other places in Las Vegas where wines on tap can be found? Caesar’s Palace is currently the leader, with all of its standalone bars and several of its restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill and Bacchanal Buffet, having keg wines available for their customers. As one manager noted, “this has eliminated all waste.” While many of us locals rarely go to the Strip, I think I will sacrifice and make the exception this time. I will be happy to report back!
You’d probably be surprised at the wines that are being served on tap. Not some 2BC (Two Buck Chuck) clones, but well-known and respected wine labels such as MacMurray, Fess Parker, Qupé, King Estate, and Trefethen, among others. I have to admit that was the biggest surprise to me; I had expected industrial swill with a vintage of last week to be on tap, not the wines I really like. A growler of Fess Parker? Oh yeah.
The next step, of course, is to hope that these kegs and wines on tap make their way into a retail setting. I understand that there are some Whole Foods that have wine on tap, and I am curious to know if they will be migrating to a growler service model. I understand that in many (or most) cases, state laws have to be changed to accommodate the sale of take-home wine growlers. Washington State has already done so, but I am not familiar with the laws of the others. While I can presume that such wine-friendly states as Oregon and California are already prepared for the retail change, I would have thought that Washington would have already had this type of model in place. So we’ll have to wait and see.
I have several growlers (surprised?) and the idea of being able to get a growler of beer, a growler of white wine and a growler of red wine for planned guests is a great one. My friends – even the most snootiest of wine folk – really enjoy being able to sit down and have a nice glass of wine along with company. I don’t think they’d have a problem with this at all.
Now that the TTB has given its blessing on the sales of wine in growlers, let’s see where the market goes. I hope that we’re in for a great ride.