Numerous arguments advocate the greater use of kegged wines. From cost and consistency to sustainability and value, the case for wine on tap seems logical. But there are obstacles to the category\u2019s growth. Is it the future of wine drinking? Yes and no.\r\nHistory of Wine on Tap in America \r\nWhile kegs are traditionally associated with beer, Americans started to put wine in stainless steel cylinders as long as 30 years ago, says Bruce Schneider, co-founder of Gotham Project and a pioneer of the tap-wine industry.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was the lowest-quality wine at the lowest prices,\u201d he says. \u201cIt started about 10 years earlier in Europe, also with cheap and cheerful wines.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn 2010, Schneider and Charles Bieler launched Gotham Project with Riesling from New York\u2019s Finger Lakes region. Quickly, the category gained traction.\r\n\r\n\u201cEarly on, we were growing at over 100 percent per year, struggling to keep up with demand,\u201d says Schneider. \u201cOver the past three years, we have enjoyed steady and solid growth in the 15\u201320 percent per year range.\u201d Since January 1st of this year, Gotham Project has been the keg wine supplier for Danny Meyer's trendy burger chain Shake Shack.\r\n\r\n\u201cWine on tap is not a fad. It is not a trend. It is part of the broader mandate of sustainability that defines the age in which we live.\u201d \u2014Kareem Massoud, winemaker, Paumanok Vineyards\r\n\r\nA company on the West Coast, Free Flow Wines, launched in 2009 and aspired to improve the quality of restaurant wines sold by the glass through kegs, says Heather Clauss, the company\u2019s vice president of sales and marketing. Free Flow Wines Founders Jordan Kivelstadt and Dan Donahoe had observed winemakers\u2019 frustrations with by-the-glass programs.\r\n\r\nOften, by-the-glass selections frequently don\u2019t show their best face to the consumer. Reasons range from inexperienced servers who pour corked wines, bottles that sit open too long and wines that incur heat damage from improper storage. A keg eliminates many of these concerns.\r\n\r\nBut to entice wineries to put their year\u2019s labor into a silver barrel was only half the battle. Distributors, restaurants, bars and wine drinkers all needed to be convinced.\r\nWhy Wine on Tap Is Great\r\nAt their best, wines on tap are fresh and bright, and can be enjoyed in the same condition as when they were kegged. Of course, some wines are suited to the format better than others. Namely, wines intended for early consumption within one or two years.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe youthful style that is so popular today accounts for 75% of all wines sold, making it perfect for kegs,\u201d says Schneider.\r\n\r\nStainless steel (already a popular winemaking vessel) provides a completely inert environment, so the wine inside doesn\u2019t age. Kegged wines also require less sulfur dioxide for preservation. That\u2019s great news for bright, aromatic whites like Riesling, or fruity reds like Grenache. If a wine requires a little wood or tank aging before serving, it\u2019s done prior to kegging.\r\n\r\n\u201cSince we're not paying for the winery\u2019s cost in bottles, corks, labeling...I can serve the same glass of wine for $12 that might have been $15 or $16 if we were poured it from a bottle.\u201d \u2014Nora O\u2019Malley, co-founder, Lois, New York City\r\n\r\nBut consistent quality and freshness aren\u2019t the only selling points. Kareem Massoud, winemaker of Paumanok Vineyards on New York\u2019s Long Island, finds the green aspect of kegged wine most compelling.\r\n\r\n\u201cWine on tap is not a fad,\u201d he says. \u201cIt is not a trend. It is part of the broader mandate of sustainability that defines the age in which we live.\u201d\r\n\r\nMost wine bottles are thrown away or recycled, and along with them items like labels, boxes, tape, the cork and capsule, says Massoud. So, if a 20-liter keg replaces 26.67 bottles of wine, the demand for those materials is reduced, too.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe steel keg can be reused dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times,\u201d says Massoud.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nNora O\u2019Malley is co-founder of Lois, a New York City wine bar with a full-tap operation.\r\n\r\n\u201cSince we're not paying for the winery\u2019s cost in bottles, corks, labeling...I can serve the same glass of wine for $12 that might have been $15 or $16 if we were poured it from a bottle,\u201d she says.\r\n\r\nHer customers can sample wines easily to find a glass they\u2019ll enjoy.\r\n\r\n\u201cThey love the eco-aspect, the novelty, and the more relaxed vibe compared to ordering from a bottle list,\u201d says O\u2019Malley. \u201cIf someone\u2019s not wine literate, lists can make them uneasy about ordering blind.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nOnce tapped, wine stays fresh up to three months.\r\n\r\nAs far as the logistics of the kegs themselves, O\u2019Malley said \u201cthey're returned, washed, and refilled or else recycled.\u201d She pointed to companies like Free Flow, which has helped ease obstacles for smaller wine producers who previously found the barrier to entry too high, e.g., buying kegs, coordinating pick-up, and cleaning. \u201cFree Flow Wines has recently expanded to cover both coasts, so I only see this category growing.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe growth of tapped wines have increased the boutique and premium selections available.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe offer everything from familiar brands to higher-end wines, including Matthiasson, Tablas Creek and Au Bon Climat,\u201d says Clauss. \u201cAs the category grows and more flagship accounts are demanding better wines in keg, we are seeing the premiumization of the wines we are putting in keg.\u201d Clauss estimates some 4,700 locations in the U.S. now offer wines on tap.\r\nChallenges to Growth\r\nAccording to Clauss, the biggest challenge to a tapped wine program is the cost of the equipment.\r\n\r\n\u201cUntil now, it's been a large capital investment for operators to get wine taps,\u201d says Clauss. Her company has begun a monthly leasing plan to ease startup costs. \u201cWe believe this will help grow the number of taps out there.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s often expensive and difficult to retrofit an existing space, especially in cities with small or historical bar footprints, which makes tapped wines better suited to new build-outs.\r\n\r\nThe other obvious challenge to kegs ruling the market: the unsuitability of serving fine, aged wines from them. Don\u2019t expect to ever order a glass of Grand Cru Burgundy from a tap.\r\n\r\nThose limitations have not stopped the segment\u2019s growth, however. As integration grows, expect the choices in your glass to follow.\r\n\r\nDiscover more about how science is leading drinks into the future in our\u00a0Wine & Tech issue.