By Renee Lorenz Special to Published Feb 04, 2011 at 4:31 PM

"Bar Month" at is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs -- including guides, the latest trends, bartender profiles and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!

Milwaukee is known as a city of beer, but we're no strangers to wine, either.

Wine bars have become go-to shops for customers to get a vino fix -- not just for convenience, but because these bars have made it their mission to demystify the whole wine experience. By offering wine by the glass, customers can get an idea of a wine's flavor before shelling out money for the whole bottle.

A consistent, fresh pour is key to this mission. In order to get it, some Milwaukee bar owners have recently turned to an innovative method of wine delivery: the wine tap.

While there are many different systems out there, the basics behind the wine tap are all about preserving the taste of the wine.

"This is about a bar or restaurant being able to offer a consistent, fresh glass of wine at a low price that is incredibly reliable," said Nate Norfolk, a certified sommelier and wholesaler for Purple Feet Wines in Pewaukee.

Norfolk and Purple Feet Wines are the Wisconsin representatives for Silvertap, a wine tap system that is in the process of being secured for use in The Hamilton, a new East Side wine bar.

Based in Sonoma County, Calif., Silvertap packages its wine in reusable kegs and dispenses it in much the same way as a regular beer tap system.

"It's the exact same principle as a beer tap. The one exception is that, because wine in general has a lower pH than beer, you need a special stainless steel tap for the wine," said Norfolk. "This runs on pure nitrogen, which preserves the wine and also pushes it through the line."

According to Norfolk, the idea of wine on tap has been used for more than 40 years, but has only recently been refined and popularized.

"This has been going on since the 1970s, but they weren't using wine of this caliber, so it wasn't of interest to as many upscale bar and restaurants," he explained. "This is wine that is superior quality that is half the price that it would be if it were in bottles."

The price point is one of the biggest advantages of wine on tap, for both customers and bar owners.

Phil Bilodeau, co-owner of Thief Wine Shop & Bar and also a certified sommelier, recently invested in a Cruvinet wine dispensing system for his second location in Shorewood.

Like the Silvertap system, the Cruvinet also uses nitrogen gas to preserve the wine's shelf life, but this system uses special taps designed to draw wine directly from their bottles.

"The system is very sleek and very attractive," said Bilodeau. "Every tap is hooked up to a nitrogen-generating system that actually converts regular air to pure nitrogen. As soon as you uncork a wine and attach it to the custom stopper, nitrogen gets flooded in and flushes the bottle clean of oxygen. Every time you pull the tap to pull wine out, nitrogen replaces that volume and so there is zero oxygen contact."

Using their Cruvinet -- currently the largest of its kind in the Midwest -- the staff at Thief Wine can keep 32 bottles open and fresh for three weeks. As a result, it can offer a greater variety of wine by the glass to its patrons.

"Customers are ensured that the bottle of wine they're drinking is perfectly fresh, and also it allows us to pour more glasses at very reasonable prices because we've got no waste," said Bilodeau.

"Without the Cruvinet, we would not have been able to offer that, because quite honestly we couldn't sell enough of a bottle before it went bad, whereas now we don't have to worry about that."

If the already favorable response is any indication, the wine tap has already met with success among the city's wine enthusiasts.

"We have had a lot of people come in that are curious to see what it's all about," said Bilodeau.

"People really appreciate and feel comfortable in the fact that they can get a great glass of wine, every time."

Renee Lorenz Special to

Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."

Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.