Wine on tap, a distribution method for wine instead of via a bottle, is known for its sustainability advantages, quality flavour and modern approach to long-term storage. As this latest trend grows within the industry, Borough Wines sales director Nick Beck explains the importance of the company’s system and why wine on tap could be the future of wine service.
Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou: Tell me about Borough Wines.
Nick Beck: The business started in 2002 as a retailer, originally in London’s Borough Market, which is where our first shop was. In 2008, the business started to expand, starting in regeneration areas in particular and moving throughout London. The idea behind it was to give people a local neighbourhood wine shop, which was accessible and didn’t have this pretentious feel to it.
The key element to it was to be able to give people wines which they wouldn’t find in supermarket shelves and in other warehouse style retailers. Within the shops, one of the key elements that we focus on is around the products being of a natural, organic nature or low intervention wines. That kind of model is reciprocated through the refill system that we developed in the shops. Now, that started off as a bag-in-box wine being pulled through a barrel with a tap on the front of it. So people would come in, they would buy a refillable bottle, they would then fill that bottle up and take the wine home and drink it. That refill system in the shops expanded on the technology to what you see today, which is the kegs and having wine on tap in that format.
We have, for the last two years, developed the wine on tap product and taken that into the market place for the on- and off-trade in the UK. The goal is to grow that part of our business as we see that as probably one of the most forward-thinking products in the wine industry at the moment. It’s also potentially the future of wine service and it helps a business like Borough Wines get its foot in the door against some of the tougher competition out there.
JLZ: Why the shift to wine on tap?
NB: A lot of people are much more conscious about how they affect the environment and sustainability within their business. With our wine on tap system, what makes it unique to other people, is that we use reusable kegs and we import the liquid ourselves. We import the wine in bulk in a big container, we put it into reusable kegs, those kegs then go out into the marketplace and then they come back and are refilled, then go back into the market. While that’s all happening, that container has gone back to a producer, is being filled up again and is coming back to us. During that whole process, there’s no waste element and if there is anything of a waste nature it’s recycled anyway. Therefore the sustainable factor within wine on tap is very big and that’s a key element to a lot of businesses operations these days.
JLZ: Since focusing on wine on tap, have you seen a major shift in sales and interest from your traditional, bottled wines?
NB: We’ve seen a huge amount of interest in wine on tap but bottle sales haven’t necessarily decreased. What we’ve been trying to do is go into somewhere and potentially look at bottles as an upsell, so for example if someone has their house wines as their tap wines, we look to complement that list with bottled varieties as well. I don’t think it’s come out of a compromise, I think it’s just added a different value to our offering. I think we were struggling before with being able to go into somewhere and just sell bottles because we possibly weren’t as competitive as other suppliers, whereas in this instance we can now do that.
JLZ: Have you had any apprehensive clients that are unsure about wine on tap?
NB: Yeah we’ve had a few. We still have customers now who still aren’t sure about it, but then someone within their business is sure about it and they’ve gone for it and it’s working for them. It’s not an easy thing, you can’t just go into somewhere and start selling kegs and leave them to it. You’ve got to install the systems and provide maintenance and service, we do all of that. That’s the big element of it really; being able to back up the quality of the liquid and the quality of the product with the quality of a service that we can provide. There’s always going to be people that are going to think it’s strange that there’s an organic Bordeaux being poured out of a tap but the fact of the matter is, it’s an organic Bordeaux of a very good quality.
JLZ: Have you seen growth in the popularity of vegan and organic wine?
NB: Definitely, I think consumers are far more interested in provenance these days and therefore there is a much larger interest in where that liquid has come from and how it’s made. You see that across the board with everything. The vegan movement is moving into drinks, so people are interested in wines being vegan. I had someone ask me if we had any Kosher wine before. So there’s definitely people asking those sort of questions.
JLZ: What is the importance of reusable kegs?
NB: A good example is plastic is a major problem in the world now and therefore if you have a non-reusable keg, you can recycle the plastic but a 30-litre plastic keg isn’t going to get thrown out in your normal recycling. You need to find someone who is able to correctly dispose of that. They might end up in a landfill because that’s the only way someone could figure out how to get rid of them. By using our reusable kegs, we eliminate that because we deliver to our customers and we pick up their kegs. There is a bag inside the reusable keg, which is an aluminium bag and that is 100% recyclable. You could throw that out in your recycling at home and that would be dealt with just like a can would be.
JLZ: Would you say that wine on tap still offers the class and sophistication that a traditional bottle may offer?
NB: I think it can, I think it’s different. If you look at the beer industry several years ago, they went through a change where everything moved from cask to keg and everything was then served on tap instead of from a pump. They never thought that would last and now you go into places and there’s 25 craft beer lines all serving beer in that format. Wine is at the very early stages of that transition, however what wine on tap does is it has an appeal to a younger audience, people that don’t ever look at wine as a pretentious object or an object that must be opened from a bottle with a cork. I think perhaps you do lose a bit of the romance in opening a bottle of wine, but do you lose any of the quality of the sophistication or the fact that you’re still getting a great product? No, I don’t think so.