Ithaca Tasting Room Features WineStation Technology

Imagine owning a bar and letting customers help themselves to the wine.

How long could you stay in business?

At Corks & More, the self-serve policy has been working quite well since January, when the tasting room and tapas bar on Ithaca’s Cayuga Lake Inlet opened. And it seems to draw an appreciative crowd mature enough (grad school and older) to use it responsibly, says owner B.J. Bliss.

That’s thanks to a portion and temperature controlled dispenser from California’s Napa Technology called WineStation. Think of it as an oenophile Automat for the leather-couch crowd. Customers purchase a special debit card at the
door, stick it in a slot, select a wine, push a button for the desired quantity (a 1-ounce taste, a 2.5-ounce half glass or a 5-ounce full glass) and make sure the glass is under the spout. The end of the pour is signaled with an authoritative hiss.

WineStation is making its way in bars, restaurants and retail operations across the country, both behind the bar (where staffers use it to portion wines) and in front of it. Corks & More is one of only two restaurants in upstate New York to offer wine through WineStation, says a company sales representative. The other is Mirbeau Inn & Spa in Skaneateles, Onondaga County.

Corks & More has 10 machines, each with an argon gas choke on four different bottles to keep oxygen, wine’s eternal enemy, out so that it’s drinkable for up to 60 days after opening. “I’m at the mercy of my own palate,” declares Democrat and Chronicle’s wine columnist Holly Howell at first sight of the spacious, pour-yourown lounge.

Actually, I’m at the mercy of Howell’s, which is why I invited her along. While I manage OK on my own choosing between Diet Coke and Mountain Dewat the office vending machine, I rely on Howell’s expertise to help me decide what best to try: the Schloss Vollrads Qualitatswein from Germany ($1.75 a taste), the Acrobat Pinot Noir from Oregon ($1.50 a taste), or the Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (a shocking $13 a taste).