Photo: Steve Thorp and Mike Macquisten with the FreshTAP kegs
’s strong wine culture has had
everything but an actual winery. Vancouver
Steve Thorp and Mike Macquisten have closed the loop by opening Vancouver Urban Winery in Railtown, the trendy new commercial district just east of
Street, bordering the . Port of Vancouver
Here, heritage industrial buildings are getting a new life as headquarters for social media companies, coffee distributors and fashion retailers like Aritzia. Vancouver Urban Winery is in a splendid high-ceilinged structure that was built in the 1920s for metal fabrication. It has been turned into a winery with the addition of stainless steel tanks, racks of barrels and, crucially, a long bar with 20 taps for dispensing wine.
That is what Vancouver Urban Winery is adding to the city’s wine culture: through a subsidiary called FreshTAP, it has begun providing wine by the keg to restaurants that have installed wine taps. This promises to revolutionize the way restaurants offer wines by the glass.
This is already a hot trend in the
An article last summer in Seattle Magazine listing restaurants with wines on
tap commented that “the concept isn’t new [but] modern technology makes serving
wines on tap a game changer.” United States
The reason: the system for wine by the keg means wines sold by the glass should always be fresh, which is not always the case when half empty bottles sit around overnight. Secondly, the shipping economy inherent with keg wines makes it possible for restaurateurs to pass along some savings to consumers.
Steve and Mike are friends who partnered several years ago to set up their own marketing company and then went looking for business ideas. Steve previously operated a sports equipment sales company. Mike previously worked with the
moving into beverage alcohol sales with Molsons and then with Corby Distillers
wine agency. Earls
There are two other investors in Vancouver Urban Winery: restaurateur Wayne Holm, a member of the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame, and Rueben Major, a chef who is director of culinary development for Earls.
“It was actually Reuben Major who brought the original concept to us,” Steve says. “He was in
and stumbled on it there.”
Subsequently, he found wine on tap was developing in other cities there as
well. New York
“We spent about four months in deep research mode,” Steve says. “We travelled the
and met with the four largest
keg packaging companies there. After
four months we put together the entire concept for what is now FreshTAP, the
keg side of our business.” U.S.
The key to making it happen in the
regulatory environment was to establish Vancouver Urban Winery as a
commercially-licensed winery. They had less trouble selling the idea to British Columbia Victoria’s regulators than they had selling it to the
city of . Vancouver
Here, there had never been a winery and therefore, no zoning for one. The city turned down the first two buildings in which Steve and Mike wanted to install the winery. Then they found the former metal working building at
Dunleavy Avenue. There were no zoning impediments
and the space works as a winery, with a tasting room. The partners plan to open
Vancouver Urban Winery to the public by the end of May. They also plan to make
some wine there this fall and to launch a proprietary wine brand.
However, this is primarily a vehicle for FreshTAP. Wineries that want to offer wine on tap deliver it in bulk to Vancouver Urban Winery. Here, the wine is stored under nitrogen until it is transferred into 19.5 litre stainless steel kegs. These kegs are pressurized with nitrogen until filled with wine. At the restaurants, the kegs fit into a system where more nitrogen protects the wines from air as it is drawn off by the glass. It is similar to the way beer on tap stays fresh.
The Edible Canada Bistro on
was the first restaurant to
install the FreshTAP system, offering Nichol Vineyards’s Pinot Gris and Nine
Mile Red on tap. The restaurant trumpets the advantages on the system on its
website. One of them: “Reducing the bottling costs allows the winery to pass on
savings directly to restaurants and through to the consumer.” Granville Island
Other wineries that have come on board so far include
Blasted Church, Desert Hills, Okanagan Crush Pad and King
Estate from .
Mike and Steve are negotiating with others interested in getting wines on tap
in restaurants. (Not all wineries are buying in: one Okanagan winery owner told
me that they will not allow their wines to be repackaged by third parties.) Oregon
Other restaurants are also coming on board. For example, The Mill Marine Bistro in
is installing eight wine taps. “We want to work with trend setting restaurants,”
Mike says. “It is a matter from day one of making sure that we are working with
the right partners that are behind wine on tap, and know the benefits of it.” Coal Harbour
Because Vancouver Urban Winery has a large public area, it also makes the facility available for wineries showing their products to the trade. Last week, Okanagan Crush Pad debuted some of its recent vintages including a new three-litre bag in the box package for three of its Haywire brand wines.
That package is another means for shaving the cost of wine to the consumer. A box of wine, equal to four bottles, sells for $54 (the rosé is $2 less), which works out to $13.50 a bottle. The briefcase-sized boxes slip easily into the refrigerator or on the counter. You can draw off a glass of wine whenever you feel like and the wine stays fresh for a reasonable period.