- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2011

Selling wine by the glass is hot, but half-empty bottles left over are not. This has prompted restaurants and bars to explore new delivery systems, including sophisticated preservation devices and kegs that keep wine on tap.

One of the latest variations on the theme has a back-to-the-future aspect: The wine is packaged in plastic bags similar to those used in boxed wines, but in this case the bag is housed in an elegant wooden barrel.

“This is the reinterpretation of history,” says Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Family Estates. “We wanted to create something very unique for restaurants and hotels and eventually for someone at home.”

Boisset Family Estates runs DeLoach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley region of California’s Sonoma County, which has been selling what it calls the barrel-to-barrel concept for more than a year, and recently launched the program at the company’s St. Helena, Calif.-based Raymond Vineyards.

As with boxed wines, the bag-in-barrel approach comes with the advantage of not having to ship and recycle glass bottles, and the wine stays fresh longer. Mr. Boisset says the unfilled 10-liter bag weighs about 2.4 ounces, 99 percent less than a 9-liter case of empty glass bottles.

So far, about 800 of the 10-liter barrels have been shipped to restaurants and bars. DeLoach also recently introduced a 3-liter version for home use.

At Chicago-based Wildfire Wine & Spirits, a small chain of steak-and-seafood restaurants, director Brad Wermager said he was drawn to the concept because it was different and “we liked the idea that it was good for the environment.”

Wildfire has 30 wines available by the glass, and Mr. Wermager has considered buying wine in kegs as another way to save on bottle waste. He likes the fact that the barrel is something that can be put on display. “It’s a good conversation piece,” he says.

Bag-in-box wines have come a long way since the days when they were mostly the butts of jokes. Many have won high praise, and they’re becoming more common on store shelves.

Still, Raymond winemaker Stephanie Putnam says she had some qualms about the new packaging.

“Of course I did,” she says with a laugh. “But I think we have really worked hard on trying to keep the wine as fresh as possible. We’re bottling the wine every three months. That way we’re really keeping it fresh and vibrant for the consumer.”

Bill Bowers, who owns the Captain’s Tavern in Miami with his wife, Audrey, put in the DeLoach barrel about four months ago.

The only problem is, because of state regulations, he can use only the 3-liter bags. On a busy night, it means the bag has to be changed, and it can take awhile to fill a glass when the level in the bag drops. Still, he says, “The quality of the wine is excellent and the taste of the wine is excellent and people like it very much.”

Leslie Sbrocco, wine author and founder of ThirstyGirl.com, sees the bag-in-barrel program as part of a general evolution of wine packaging as the industry and consumers become used to more than the traditional bottle and cork.

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