Wine Keg Company Expands

Free Flow Wines installs automated kegging line in new Napa plant

by Paul Franson
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Napa, Calif.—Free Flow Wines has installed the first automated line for filling wine kegs in the western hemisphere in its new 22,000-sq.ft. plant in the Napa Commons business park. The system made by KHS in Germany fills 70 kegs per hour and allows the company to increase output from 7,000 kegs per week using a manual approach to more than 20,000 kegs per week.

Free Flow, which now supplies 300 premium wines from 150 wineries to 2,000 restaurants, hotels, sports and entertainment venues nationwide from its 42,000 kegs, moved to the space from Sonoma, Calif.’s Eighth Street “Wine Ghetto” in July.

The four-year-old company is also installing a state-of-the-art water reclamation system that, it stated, recycles 99 percent of all water used by the company.

The company’s business is logistics – filling the kegs and shipping them to wine distributors as well as receiving and reusing the kegs.

Ironically, it started out in a different business. Dan Donahoe and Jordan Kivelstadt formed Free Flow Wines in 2009 with their own brand of wine on tap called Silvertap. They recently sold the Silvertap brand to The Smart Wine Company, however, and now focus on kegging and logistics services for other wineries.

Wineries ship their wine to Free Flow in small portable tanks or deliver it in tank cars. Their wine customers range from small wineries like Arietta and Saintsbury to wineries owned by giants, like Constellation’s Franciscan and Gallo’s William Hill.

Other wineries that have used Free Flow’s services include Beringer and Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa Valley, SIMI Winery in Sonoma and King Estate in Oregon.

The wines go through their regular distributors. The customers include small bars and large corporations like Marriott Hotels and Caesars Entertainment. Free Flow Wines recently spearheaded a change to Florida laws that limited the size of wine containers to one gallon. The new laws allow restaurants and hospitality chains to offer wine on tap in their restaurants across all 50 states.

“Free Flow Wines allows us to offer great wines on tap so that our guests can experience them just as the winemaker intended,” said Lou Trope, Vice President Restaurant and Bar at Marriott Hotels. “It is not only a great quality solution but also alleviates the common wine storage challenges behind the bar.”

What’s the appeal?

Free Flow isn’t alone in packaging wine in kegs. Napa Valley restaurateur Michael Ouellette started Vintap and Jim Neal started N2 wines.

Wine on tap can have advantages over wine shipped in bottles, including wine quality, environmental concerns and economy.

Kegs are touted as a sustainable, environmentally friendly way to ship wine. Each wine keg holds the equivalent of 26 bottles. Free Flow Wines stated that in 2012 it saved 347,254 bottles, corks, capsules, labels and cases from landfills nationwide.

The kegs save in shipping, too.

Packaging wines in reusable kegs takes a lot of water to clean them, and in addition to installing the new kegging line, Free Flow also has built a water treatment plant. “The county wanted to charge $1.9 million to hook up and discharge our waste water, but we installed our own water treatment system for $275,000,” said Kivelstadt.

Free Flow’s new water reclamation system uses a bioreactor and reverse osmosis to purify the water used for cleaning and sterilizing wine kegs.

The system will reduce the plant’s water consumption from 3,000 gallons per day to 100 gallons per day – not including office water. And without the system, it has to truck away wastewater.


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