As I am in technology marketing for my paying gig, I am all about watching innovation and disruption change industries and I love watching transformations. Google. Apple. Twitter. Uber. All companies that pushed the envelope and changed the way we search, compute, live and ride.
But let’s face it. The wine industry has not been known for innovation and there has been a “what’s old is right mentality.” So anytime that I’m pitched a chance to talk to someone in the wine industry that is doing something different beyond a new app, you can sign me up almost immediately.
John Coleman and Dan Donahoe
I had the chance to sit down with Savor’s Executive Chef John Coleman and Free Flow Wines Co-Founder and Chairman Dan Donahoe to talk about their partnership in bringing the first premium wines on tap to Dallas. It all started with a phone call. John self-described himself as someone who finds it a challenge to find people who may or may not want to be found. And, he wanted to bring innovation and “out of the box thinking” to Dallas in the form of premium wine on tap to his restaurant. A long-term friendship and business partnership was formed.
These guys are passionate about their business. And, the business benefits are impressive. Savor is now the number one stand-alone top volume restaurant for wines on tap in the country. Yes, Dallas – home of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay playdates and big steakhouse upcharged “premiere brands” – wins in wine innovation.
Let’s talk about the benefits. The keg packaging removes hundreds of tons of packaging waste from the environment. I was there when Republic showed up to deliver the barrels. At 58 pounds apiece, they seemed as easy as bringing in a few cases of wine. If you’ve been to Savor, you know they don’t have a lot of space. What they do with some many diners in such a small kitchen is pretty amazing. And, the consistency is the real kicker. Every glass of wine is guaranteed fresh – every single time. I just had a great glass of one of my French favorites during a business trip to Houston. It had turned and I sent it back. That gets expensive for restaurants.
I had the chance to tap my personal glass of wine. It was lightning fast and the J Vineyards Pinot Gris tasted exactly like it did when I hung out with Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse from J Vineyards.
Now the brands. There are some big boys embracing this technology – Arietta, Frog’s Leap, J Vineyards, MINER, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Robert Craig, Trefethen Family Vineyards – even Va Piano, one of my great winery finds in Walla Walla. Right now, 140 wine brands are shipping their juice to Free Flow Wines where they ship to 43 states. It is pumped into ten staging tanks in a 22,000 square foot facility based in Napa and put into over 7,000 kegs where it is shipped across country. It gives restaurants and consumers the opportunity to feature more “off the beaten path” wines at little risk. And, wine geeks like me respond with open arms.
Savor offers eight whites by the glass, half carafe and carafe ranging from $9 for the glass to $44 for the carafe. The whites include Simi Sauvignon Blanc, Trefethen Dry Riesling, Franciscan Chardonnay and Duchman Vermentino. There are eight reds including Saintsbury Pinot Noir, Qupe Syrah and Paul Dolan Cabernet offered in the same format from $9 for a glass to $50 for a carafe. They also feature a list of wines by the bottle.
This barrel to bar approach is incredibly innovative. The great thing is that chef and sommelier driven restaurants like Savor are embracing and encouraging this innovation. Dan talked about several hotel and restaurant chains that are embracing the technology. If you’ve followed my “can you get a decent glass of wine at a chain” postings, you know I’m truly happy to see this as I’d rather not have to go taste chain food to make my point.
The only downside that was proactively brought up by Dan is that this technology is not for aging wine. So, the tradition of an aged bottle and the ceremony around that will continue at Savor as well, but 80 percent of the wines today are sold by tap.
Being guaranteed a fresh glass of wine with no cork taint (John has never had a corked wine since opening), giving restaurants the opportunity to expand their selections without the risk. Having the ability to buy a good glass of wine at a fair price and the environmental benefits make this an innovation that is worthy of note. The future quality, selection and value of the wines you drink by the glass depend on it.