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Wine by the keg could be coming to Florida

What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone says, "Keg"?

Beer? Obviously.

Tailgates? Definitely.

Frat parties? Sure.

Wine? Umm … not exactly.

Get ready for a surprise.

A bill coursing its way through the Florida Legislature would legalize the sale of wine in kegs, putting a cork in a law that limits the sale of wine to one gallon containers or less.

"This removes the antiquated red tape and eliminates a Prohibition-era rule that is still in our books," said Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, the House sponsor of the bill, HB 623.

Proponents of the legislation, which passed the House unanimously last month and is advancing in the Senate, tout a variety of benefits.

Kegs are more environmentally friendly than bottles. Restaurants and bars would save money. Wine would stay fresh longer. And it would help a Tampa Bay company that makes accessories for the keg.

Florida's actually a little late to the keg party.

Most other states — 48 in all, says Artiles — have laws allowing wine to be sold in the containers.

Wine on tap can be found in restaurants, bars, vineyards and hotels across the country, says keg wine pioneer Todd Rushing, an Atlanta restaurateur.

Rushing was the first to bring wine on tap to a restaurant, adding 42 taps to his Atlanta restaurant TWO urban licks in 2004.

"It's been very well received," he said.

He's watched the movement grow over the years, dealing with skeptics — people who worried wine on tap would strip the romanticism away from the beverage.

In the past two years, in particular, wine on tap has started to gain traction — especially along the West Coast and hubs for oenophiles such as New York and Chicago.

"The first glass is going to be the same as the last," said Rushing, who has one keg that's been tapped for six years. "It's really in a state of suspended animation."

The prospect of wines on tap is getting a mostly positive reception in Tampa Bay.

Ro Patel, who recently launched Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa, said he would love to put a wine tap in his new restaurant.

"I think it's a great opportunity to do something fun and innovative with wine," he said. "I'm excited for this bill to pass. I think it's really good for Florida."

Patel said wine on tap would not only provide consistently fresh wines by the glass, but it would do something more: Restaurants could expand their wine programs, allowing more expensive or unusual wine offerings without worrying about the wine going bad.

Dave Madera, general manager and wine director at Mise en Place in Tampa, also likes the idea of kegging wines.

"It's kind of cool that we're being included in this new evolution," he said.

Though he thinks the savings and the freshness are great advantages, he doesn't see the wine coming into the fine-dining restaurant any time soon.

Madera said it didn't fit the "forte" of its wine program or its more traditional views.

He said that opening a bottle tableside is part of the experience — the show — that diners spend good money to see.

"There's a certain romanticism about it," he said.

Bruce Caplan, owner of Fetishes Dining & Wine Bar in St. Pete Beach, was a little less quick to embrace the keg idea. "I would be very skeptical, to say the very least," he said.

He had lots of questions: Will gas in the kegs affect the flavor? What about the pressure? Does the wine really have that long of a shelf life?

"I don't know if I would trust that wine for very long," he said.

The Florida bill would legalize only kegs that are 5.16 gallons — what's known as a "sixth barrel." It holds about 26 bottles of wine — or roughly 130 glasses. The idea came from Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

"I see this as a major recycling bill," said Simpson, noting the environmental benefits of using kegs over glass bottles.

The kegs are airtight and typically made out of stainless steel. The tubing is specially designed to prevent air from getting in, said Jeff Tucker, Brooksville regional sales manager at Micro Matic, which sells parts for wine kegs outside of Florida.

When a keg is tapped, wine is pulled from the bottom of the keg, he said. A nitrogen-carbon dioxide mixture — known as "beer gas" — is pumped into the top, preventing oxidation, pushing the wine through the system.

"The only gas being introduced is that blended gas," Tucker said.

The kegs are typically stored in a wine refrigeration unit and kept at specific temperatures. It comes at a price. One of the cheapest refrigeration units sold at Micro Matic runs more than $2,000. And that doesn't include the faucets — or the wine.

Tucker said they're primarily meant for commercial operation. Not home use. Or, for that matter, frat party use.

"I just don't see the average consumer buying a keg of wine," he said.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com.

Wine by the keg could be coming to Florida 04/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 5:58pm]
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