Posted on | May 29, 2012
Written by | Jeffery Lindenmuth
Enjoying wine by the glass, rather than the bottle, in restaurant settings is more popular than ever, and for very good reason. It improves the guest experience with a lower price of entry and more wine options throughout the meal, while also delivering nice margins to the operator. If there is a downside to wine served by the glass, it’s the potential for profit-devouring waste. Whether from heavy-handed bartenders or simple spoilage, by-the-glass wine programs can be plagued with loss.
There are many ways to contend with these issues, from simple diligence or discretely marked fill levels on custom glasses to high-tech systems that promise to preserve your opened wines for weeks. Here we look at the costs and benefits associated with some solutions to offering wine by the glass, from the people who serve it successfully.
Owner/ Ara Wine Bar
New York City
System: Vacu Vin Winesaver. vacuvin.com
Overview: “We do not have any fancy storage systems, but we do vacuum overnight,” says Ellis. In addition, vacuumed wines are stored in the refrigerator, which slows oxidation. While simple and low-cost, this approach demands diligence. Anytime a previously opened wine is served, the bottle gets tasted first, which helps to improve the server’s appreciation. “We used to mark the bottles with stickers with the date they were opened, but found taste is a more accurate indicator. In the end, that is what matters,” Ellis notes.
Types of wine: Red / White / Sparkling
Automatic portion control: No
Why did you select this system? “Low cost, ease of use and it keeps us connected with the wines in a personal way.”
Start-up cost: $100 for four hand vacuum pumps and 25 stoppers.
Time using this system: 8 years
Number of wines on offer: “We are now down to 15, but we have offered as many as 50. Paring down the list reduces waste, and we found that more choices didn’t improve business. The vast majority of people either want a varietal they know or simply ask for guidance. It’s much easier for staff to suggest wines they know well, which is easier with a smaller but carefully chosen list.”
What I like most: “It’s easy, affordable and effective.”
What I would improve: “The system is only as good as the taster, as it relies totally on the tasting abilities and diligence of staff.”
Loss/waste: “We really only lose bad or corked wine in my opinion. We only hold wine that has been opened for 24 hours. After that, if is still good, and most is, we treat regulars to a free glass or use it in wine-based drinks like sangria, mulled wine or special cocktails.”
What would you say to others considering this approach? “You must have a well-trained staff that can tell the difference between a wine that has seen too much air and one that has not.”
co-owner / AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar
System: Wine on tap.
Overview: AIDA serves a selection of wines dispensed from kegs using traditional beer equipment systems like Micromatic and Perlik along with a McDantim Nitrogenator. “We offer 30 different wines on tap, with the ability to add seasonal wines such as rosé, Vinho Verde and small-production wines,” says Barbera. Because wine is not customarily kegged, it often requires cooperation directly with the producer. AIDA, for instance, sources wines from local and national partners like including Melville Winery, Dancing Coyote, Zenaida, Flying Goat Cellars, Calera, Frog’s Leap and others.
Types of wine: Red / White
Automatic portion control: No, but servers use a small decanter to measure 3 oz. and 5 oz. pours and special re-useable wine bottles to measure 10 oz. and 20 oz. carafes.
Why did you select this system? Recommended by AC Beverage from Annapolis, MD.
Start-up cost: “It’s proprietary but let’s say no more than the Enomatic preservation solutions that offer 30 wines.”
Time using this system: Since December 2010
Number of wines on offer: 30
What I like most: “Flexibility to offer as many different wines as possible. It’s also easy to clean, operate and maintain, with very low maintenance costs.”
Loss/waste: Less than 5% and most of that is attributed to over-pours or samples.
What would you say to others considering this approach? “What’s taking you so long? This is the best system for delivering a fresh, consistent wine-by-the-glass program in the industry. It offers the winery the ability to deliver to the consumer the freshest product on the market. Each keg reduces the cost of delivering the product to the consumer by saving 25 bottles, corks and various packaging materials. This is a hard savings of about $50 per keg, every time it is refilled. It is greener, dramatically reduces the cost to the consumer and allows us to deliver a superior product at a lower cost.”
co-ceo / Cafe Caturra
Arlington, VA (7 locations)
System: By the Glass Wine Dispensing Systems from Holland, BTG12ST (2X) 12 bottle “Standard Series” dual temperature zones with see-through Glass Back Wall and 3 position Portion Control. winebytheglasssolutions.com
Overview: Like high-end kitchen cabinets, By The Glass systems are completely custom-built, with finishes available in stainless steel or wood. They can accommodate all still wines bottled in 750ml or 1.5L bottles. In fact, they can store a second bottle behind the active one for quick switching on a busy night. Flexible climate zones allow the user to change the ratio of red to white wines in each unit, while inert Argon gas promises to preserve open wines up to three weeks.
Types of wine: Red / White
Automatic portion control: Available, with a setting for three volumes per tap.
Self-serve: Not in use, but it is available for areas where permitted by law.
Why did you select this system? “Compared to the other systems on the market, it’s by far the easiest to operate and maintain, plus it has a beautiful aesthetic.”
Start-up cost: About $28,000 all-inclusive.
Time using this system: Installed for grand opening in September 2011, with the latest system installed at Cafe Caturra, Trenholm Plaza, in Columbia, SC.
Number of wines on offer: 24
What I like most: “I love that we can pour a perfect glass (3, 6, or 9 oz.) at the perfect temperature with no waste.
I also love the look of the system: it is sleek and complements our space nicely while still offering customers a view of the selections and their labels.”
What I would improve: I would like to have the ability to pour from both sides of the unit.
Loss/waste using this system: Minimal.
What would you say to others considering this approach? “The sales and support from Wine By The Glass Solutions has been exceptional. If you are looking for a quality highly-customizable system, with hands-on support, this is an excellent choice.”
owner / Dee Lincoln’s Tasting Room & Bubble Bar
System: Enomatic: ELITE Enoround,16-bottle Dual Temperature; ELITE Enoline 16-bottle Dual Temperature; FLUTE 4-bottle Champagne system. enomaticusa.com, rdwine.com
Overview: Founded in 2002, Italy’s Enomatic is a pioneer in high-tech by-the-glass systems, using Nitrogen gas (or Argon as an option) to serve and preserve wine. Standard systems include self-cleaning spouts for quick bottle changes and programmable volume settings, while wine card readers are a popular option for self-serve environments. The Classic series serves wine at room temperature while Elite adds cooling capacity. Still wines are preserved for three weeks; the new Flute can maintain fragile sparkling wines for 10 days.
Types of wine accommodated: Red / White / Sparkling (Flute)
Automatic portion control: Computer programming allows the precise poured volume to be set.
Self-serve: Optional Smart Card activated models can add, delete, store and process information using a smart card, including the amount of wine left in a bottle and the activities of individual customers.
Why did you select this system? “I chose Enomatic because my career has been spent in luxury brands. Perfect temperature, presentation and care of wine is important to me and my guests expect a high level of quality, so this was a great fit.”
Start-up cost: About $150,000.
Time using this system: Since 2009, with upgrades over time.
Number of wines on offer: 32 in the Elite and Enoround machines and 4 sparkling wines in the Flute machine.
What I like most: “My guests can experience wine by the ounce—as little as 2 ounces, 4 ounces or the pleasure of a full glass, which is 6 ounces. It gives the option to create your own flights. Also, software and changing of the bottles has been greatly improved. We now change out the empty bottle and can be ready to go with the push of a button.”
Loss/waste: Very little, limited to only the small amount that could stay in the bottle when changing out.
What would you say to others considering this approach? “I highly recommend this for a by-the-glass program if committed to selling a variety of wine at several price points. This is an expensive system that requires training on the machines and software, and staff on-hand during service. Self-serve does not mean it requires no attention. In fact, to maximize opportunities, knowledgeable staff must be available.”
Overview: Unlike tap wine that uses conventional or modified beer equipment, Better Barrel, based in Santa Rosa, California, is a self contained wine-on-tap system that is “plug and play.” The selection of wines is limited to Better Barrel partners, but compared to traditional tap systems, requires no line cleaning, gases or maintenance. In reality, Better Barrel uses the technology of 3-liter vacuum bag wines, like those found in bag-in-box, but improves on them with an attractive barrel look that requires only 11 inches of shelf depth, and has the addition of an adjustable temperature control through a standard electrical outlet.
Types of wine accommodated: Red / White
Automatic portion control: No
Why did you select this system? “It is inexpensive and it is completely self-contained. You just plug it in. Better Barrel does not require any cleaning or special installation costs, making it very cost-effective.”
Start-up cost: $199 per system.
Time using this system: One month
Number of wines on offer: 5
What I like most: “Better Barrel has allowed me to introduce carafe service, and it frees up space in my refrigerator for other products.”
What I would improve: “I’d like to see more selections of wine to choose from.”
What would you say to others considering this approach? “This is the most cost-effective and easiest way to introduce wine on tap, and the wines on offer are very good. Plus, the barrel just looks great.”
Trend-Tracking By The Glass
Flexibility is at the core of by-the-glass programs, and so they often become harbingers of developing trends. We checked in with a few key distributors to get a read on some recent BTG trends on both coasts and in the Midwest.
Joseph Eger, director of sales for wine on-premise at Southern Wine & Spirits in Metro New York, reports: “In general I have seen a trend toward higher-priced by-the-glass. More venues are utilizing wine preservation systems and featuring wines in the $18-$50 range. I have also seen growth in large formats being used by the glass. Magnums on up to 6L are growing in the still rosé, red Tuscan and red California wines. These are primarily being utilized at fine dining Italian and steakhouses.
“As far as varietals are concerned, blends have picked up some but there is no one hot new varietal. Malbec was on the up and seems to have reached a plateau. Rosé all year is now in effect at most places, not just the spring.”
“Wisconsin’s BTG trends can sometimes be a bit behind the coasts and big cities, being that our demographic is largely rural and industrial,” says Dave Stefanski, on-premise sales manager at Wirtz Beverage in Wisconsin. “The Moscato explosion is huge here, being a sweet profile state anyway. Two years ago we had maybe a half dozen Moscato-based wines in our book; today over 20 and still growing. And every type of on-premise customer from local taverns to fine dining is getting calls for Moscato. The other “hot” M wine, Malbec, is growing fast also. In Wisconsin, Riesling is here to stay. Our German heritage and sweet tooth make us a solid market for it.
“The newer wine drinkers are really exploring the world of wine, literally—Spain, France, Italy, New Zealand, S. America and even premium saké can be thrown in the mix. The brand loyalty factor isn’t as strong as it was in the ’80s and ’90s. There are so many choices form all over the world now, why get in a rut? Restaurants are balancing their selections with brands that customers are comfortable with (J. Lohr, Rodney Strong, Kenwood) and wines that customers can do some exploring. Small-production, family-owned, environmentally conscious wineries are more a part of our daily conversation today.”
Young’s Market in northern California recently partnered with a supplier to provide wine on tap; currently demand for these systems is outpacing supply of wine in kegs, which as of now are mostly small-production, “garage” wines, says Senior VP Jason Wooler. “There are a lot of reasons for their appeal: the green factor, convenience, less spoilage, and just being different. But there are still a lot of questions as to activating this category profitably,” he notes. In terms of what people are drinking: “Core varietal wines are still strong, including Chardonnay. The California consumer is willing to pay a modest premium for varietal-specific, appellation-specific wines by the glass. Pricewise, glass pours are topping out at about $15/glass, with $8-$12 being the sweet spot.”