Bars and restaurants throughout the country are ditching traditional wine lists for more innovative offerings, like wine walls and wine on tap.
What catches your eye when you first enter the 15,700-square-foot The Matheson in Healdsburg, California? It’s not art, or ornate chandeliers. It’s a wine wall.
Dispensed from self-serve, stainless-steel WineStation machines, 110 wines are available on tap. Of those, 80 percent are from Sonoma County, and 20 percent from Napa Valley or the Old World. Prices for various size pours range from a few dollars to $24 (for a “splash”) of 2017 Opus One Cabernet Blend.
Similarly, Region in Sebastopol, California—another Sonoma County town—skews from traditional wine service in favor of self-serve taps. A wine wall of only Sonoma County selections is vetted by owner/founder Kerry Thedorf and dispensed by the customer in various size pours. Most wineries are new to the customer.
“We wanted customers to try a wine they’d never find on the shelves at Safeway,” says Thedorf, who takes staff on monthly tasting visits to winery clients to learn their stories. “With wine, you have to have the story and that connection.” Selections are switched out of the machines each quarter. Thedorf plans to open a similar concept in San Luis Obispo, CA in 2022.
Partnering with local wineries lacking tasting rooms or a huge marketing budget is an underlying goal at Region. Wineries take over the adjacent tasting-room space—in a pop-up concept—twice a year for a week at a time. Keeping events small, casual and affordable is key, says Thedorf, with tickets sold through Resy. Examples of wineries’ events include cupcake pairings, oyster and sparkling wine pairings, and pizza and Pinot Noir, with the winemaker in attendance. Because Region does not have a kitchen it partners with local chefs and caterers to provide small bites.
Offering unique wine-sipping experiences invites new customers in. “The only way to taste Kosta Browne (Pinot Noir) is to go to a restaurant and order a bottle and it costs around $400, or you can do a tasting that books two months in advance and it takes an hour and a half and it’s not cheap,” says Valette. But at Matheson it costs much less to try.