Wine Vending Machines Offer Savings

Wine sommelier Andy Schneider had a glass of wine recently from a bottle of wine that had been open for 10 days.

It was delicious, thanks to a state-of-the-art wine vending machine that preserved Schneider’s expensive glass of wine in its original, just-opened condition.

Two of those machines are available to wine lovers in Rapid City, now that the Vertex Sky Bar at the top of Hotel Alex Johnson and Manchego’s restaurant have them.

“I had one as old as 10 days and it was still just fine,” said the owner of Canyon Lake Liquors, whose tastebuds are accredited by the International Sommelier Guild. “I think without question they definitely give wine a lot more longevity than the standard practice of resealing a bottle using a manual pump system.

Are they really good for 30 days? That’s yet to be decided by wine masters who have more discriminating tastebuds than he does, but to the average palate — maybe. “I think they do just about everything they’re hyped to do.”

The machines, which replace oxygen in a bottle with a hiss of heavier, neutral gas — such as nitrogen or argon — as the wine is dispensed, are essentially a sophisticated, high-tech version of the home pump system that many wine drinkers use.

“The enemy of wine is oxidation,” said Brian Piper, manager of Vertex Sky Bar, which has a four-bottle WineStation made by Napa Technologies with a retail cost of about $5,000. But the machine brings financial advantages for both the customer and the proprietor, he said.

Wine lovers now have the ability to enjoy more expensive vintages by the glass, instead of purchasing an entire bottle for $100 or more that they may not wish to finish in one sitting. Restaurants and bars are better able to manage inventories of upper-end wines while reducing waste, Piper said. “It’s a win for everybody.”

As guests cut back on ordering bottles, wines by the glass across the country are catching up to bottle sales because a glass provides the restaurant guest with more opportunity to explore higher priced wines, or indulge in small doses.

“Our guests are growing more and more discerning about their wines and requesting unique and high-end wines to try by the glass,” said Jim, Fahey, director of Food & Beverage. “We needed the most effective, intelligent wine preservation system that would allow us to provide the smartest glass of wine every time.”

Last week at Vertex, the WineStation was keeping four bottles of $100-plus Cabernets at a perfectly controlled 53 degrees. Customers can order a 6-ounce glass of wine, or a four-sample flight of each wine, in 1-ounce ($22) or 3-ounce ($50) sizes, for taste testing. The machine can dispense servings in 1/2-ounce increments.

“Our customers are excited that we’re opening more expensive wines,” Piper said. “I had one lady come in the other night and say, ‘Wait, you guys are pouring Silver Oak by the glass?”

At Manchego’s, customers can serve themselves using the same dispensing technology with a pre-paid card — from $20 to $200. The card is inserted into a slot and allows them to choose from among 24 different bottles of wine housed in a $40,000 Enomatic wine dispenser that keeps reds and whites at separate temperatures. The prices of 1-ounce, 3-ounce and 5-ounce servings are displayed above each bottle in a revolving electronic display — and typically range from $1.50 to $22 or more.

Schneider says budget-minded wine lovers can take advantage of a much more primitive version of the wine vending machines: Boxed wine packaged in plastic bladders that keep oxygen out and keep wine “anerobic.”

“The bladder in a box is an excellent, cheap way to make wine last longer. It’s one of the best capsules for preserving wine,” he said. “Box wine has come a long ways in the last 10 years. They’re really putting decent juice in those now and they definitely have their place at larger functions where you don’t want to open 10 bottles of wine.”

Schneider, who has taught a wine class through Community Education of the Black Hills for eight years, has some advice for wine tasters, whether they are trying 1-ounce samples of $100 per bottle wines or deciding between two $5 bottles of wines.

“There are differences between tasting and drinking. There are proper tasting techniques,” he said. “You have about 10,000 tastebuds in your mouth, so take the time to expose the wine to all of them. With a normal drink, you might hit one-tenth of those tastebuds.”