Restaurants across the nation are pouring wine in a new way: from a tap. Wine in a keg isn’t a new idea; in Europe, kegged wine has a long history. Now, American restaurants are catching on to the trend, largely in response to customer demand for more eco-friendly wine.
One keg of wine holds the equivalent of 26 bottles. Each one of those bottles uses up a lot of resources, in its glass, cork, foil, paper labels, and the cases and pallets it is stored in. Kegs, by contrast, don’t need much packaging, and can be reused for 20 years or more. Over its lifetime, a keg eliminates the need for 3,000 bottles.
Transporting kegs instead of bottles leaves a smaller carbon footprint. Kegs reduce wine’s weight, which accounts for one third to one half of transportation carbon emissions in the wine industry. And since it is often small, boutique wineries that offer wines by the keg, using kegged wine encourages restaurants to get their wines locally, further reducing transportation carbon emissions.
Kegs also keep wine from being wasted. 80 percent of wine in a typical restaurant is sold by the glass. Once the cork is removed, air flows into the bottle, and oxidation begins. And as anyone who’s ever tried to save a half-empty bottle for another night knows, wine in a bottle only takes a day or two to go bad.
Kegs don’t have this problem. When a keg is tapped, a non-reactive gas (such as nitrogen) pressurizes the contents, preventing oxygen from reaching the wine. Kegged wine can stay fresh for up to a year. This makes kegged wine attractive to restaurants owners, who, on average, lose 25 percent of their profit by throwing out bottles they’ve only sold a glass or two from.
Of course, not every wine is right for the keg. Wine kept in a keg won’t age like wine in a bottle will. Kegs are a good fit for wine that’s meant to be drunk right away–about 90 percent of all wines produced. For these wines, the keg trend means a more sustainable alternative.
Sustainability is something that’s become important to the wine industry in recent years. Because wineries are often passed from generation to generation, their soil needs to stay fertile in the long-term. Many vintners are taking strides to prevent soil depletion, water pollution, resistance to pests, and dependence on chemicals. With the new trend of kegged wine, sustainability is spreading from the vineyard where the wine is made into the restaurants that serve it.
Stephanie Warren is a freelance writer who has written for Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and several of Scholastic’s children’s science magazines.
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