Push to Pour
Wine dispensing machines offer consumers more choice at less cost
By Cheryl Harrison, Morgan LandisPublished October 25, 2012
Donnie Austin is explaining to me how his wine dispensing machine works, but I’m not really listening.
It’s hard not to be distracted. Clutched in my hand is a magic card that I can insert into a machine and then push buttons to make wine appear in my glass.
I realize we should probably sit down so I can pay proper attention.
Austin, who owns the retail shop and wine bar House Wine in Worthington, was the first person in Ohio to install one of these wine dispensing “vending machine” systems back in 2007.
“The concept of the shop was to make wine approachable, and the idea of this machine was that people could come in and taste wine before they buy it, instead of investing in a bottle and not being happy with it,” said Austin. “For someone who is just getting into wine, it’s hard for them to describe what they like.”
Now that we’re sitting down, Austin explains (to greater success) how it works: customers get a card with no spending limit (pay later), or a card pre-loaded for a set amount (pay now), from the cashier, insert the card into a slot on the machine, and proceed to taste at their own pace. The 24 bottles of wine inside are sorted white to red, sweet to dry. Unlike some high-end wine bars that don’t even list the price of a glass or bottle on the menu, the digital display on the machine clearly tells you how much a one-, three-, or five-ounce pour from each bottle will set you back.
To dispense, just press the button above the desired wine for the desired quantity and hold your glass underneath. Presto. Vino.
The machines were mostly intended to be used as a retail tool (try before you buy), but Austin says more people are using it at his shop as a drinking tool – creating their own custom wine flights, at their own custom price point.
The machines also help to increase the selection small shops can offer, since it acts as a preservative in addition to a dispenser. Without it, a business like House Wine might only be able to keep a couple bottles, if any, open for customers to try, as an opened bottle can really only maintain its integrity for a day or two. But since the machine injects nitrogen to offset oxidation, bottles are able to last for three to four weeks.
It might also be the only chance most of us get to try certain wines – opening a $200 bottle that sells for $10-$20 an ounce carries a lot less risk for the business when it can be preserved for up to a month – and a lot less risk for the frugal wine buyer not willing to gamble that $200.
There’s more than beer flowing from Columbus taps
Wine drinkers have long been deprived of the soothing ritual available to the draft-beer crowd. While a bottle of wine is certainly fine, there’s a charm to the tap. Pulling back on the handle is less a pouring and more an unleashing of a favorite libation, the stream of gathering booze in the bottom of the glass igniting a Pavlovian anticipation for the coming drink.
Now, a few restaurants in Columbus are “tapping” into a new way to serve their customers wine – large-batch kegs are poised to make imbibing more economically and environmentally efficient.
“Tap wine is a fantastic delivery method all around, especially for people who are looking to reduce their footprint,” said Gregory Stokes, the certified sommelier at Till Dynamic Fare, a restaurant near the University District with two wines on tap.
In the restaurant world, it’s hard to maintain the wine’s quality when the bottle is constantly opened and closed, so half-used wine bottles are tossed after being open a few days and it becomes wasteful. Similar to beer on tap, wine must be stored in kegs for a proper tap pour, as the keg keeps the wine fresh.
“It’s the same glass of wine every time it’s poured,” Stokes said.
The keg lasts for years, but to include more grape-dyed pours, there must be more available. Currently, there are only a few keg wines available in Ohio. Local producers, though, such as Brothers Drake Meadery, are embracing the process with their house-made products. Mead is kept fresh and transported more easily when stored in kegs, and having more offerings on tap creates a sustainable price point across the board.
“In house, we have six meads on tap, and nine of our accounts have mead on tap, including Bodega, Hal and Al’s, Double Happiness, and Betty’s,” said Sarah Jones of Brothers Drake. “Everyone saves money; they can buy it for cheaper (just like beer), and it makes it a lot more accessible for everyone, and that’s really important.”
Kegs also naturally reduce the amount of bottles, corks, labels, and other unneeded packaging out of landfills.
Now wine, mead, and liquor lovers can enjoy the same rush of gratification that beer drinkers have selfishly enjoyed for the last few centuries, while also having the satisfaction of saving a little green, and the environment.
You can find these wine dispensing machines in Central Ohio at House Wine in Worthington, Bel Lago in Westerville, Giant Eagle Market District in Upper Arlington, Tucci’s California Bistro in Dublin and Vito’s Wine Bar in Delaware.