Business & Real Estate

LA Tasting Room dabbles with wine tech

Los Altos Tasting Room
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The Plum, available at Byington Vineyard & Winery’s Los Altos Tasting Room, dispenses wine by the glass. It functions like a cross between a keg and a Coravin, helping preserve a bottle of wine at its peak by preventing air contact during pouring and storage.

Byington Vineyard & Winery’s Los Altos Tasting Room is experimenting with new formats and hardware meant to make its wines more flexible, scalable and not limited to by-the-bottle drinking. Preservation and storage technology has been expanding beyond bag-of-wine-in-a-box innovations to target the luxury market.

Just inside the door of the tasting room at 366 Main St., a Micro Matic kegerator (keg refrigerator) spouts wine by the glass. Micro Matic launched in 1953 with a focus on breweries and beer but has expanded into beverage hardware of all kinds, from nitro coffee to wine taps.

Rosalee Noroña, the tasting room’s manager, said they are currently tapping a 2017 Zinfandel that Byington made with grapes from Santa Clara Valley’s Moniz Vineyard. Beneath the gleaming chrome wine font – a spigot more sedate than the beer taps associated with a kegerator – the Micro Matic can hold up to four wine kegs. Each tank suspends a bag of wine inside a cushion of air, at a set temperature calibrated to the wine’s individual personality.

Each of its kegs holds approximately 125 glasses of wine, and in addition to selling the Zin for $5 per glass, the tasting room is about to experiment with growlers – another accoutrement of the craft beer world that has come to infiltrate wine as well. The 34-ounce glass growler vessels, roughly equivalent to a bottle of wine, are intended to reduce waste – they can be refilled again and again – and allow customers to buy an everyday favorite at a lower price than bottle sales. They will cost $25 to purchase and $15 for refills of the 2017 Zinfandel, which is not yet available in bottles but will be the first growler offering. By contrast, a bottle of the 2013 Zinfandel currently sells for $39 at the tasting room.

“It’s amazing how familiar people are with the growler, (though) it’s pretty new to the Santa Cruz Mountains wine country,” Noroña said. “It supports our sustainable, green-growing philosophy and makes a smaller footprint – it saves on wine bottles and saves on cork.”

Pouring & storing trends

Los Altos resident Benny Madsen, who purchased Byington Winery in 2013, has an interest in new technology entering the wine world, Noroña noted. Another new product found at the tasting room, the Plum, also dispenses wine by the glass or the taste. The counter-top machine functions like a cross between a keg and a Coravin, helping preserve a bottle of wine at its peak by preventing air contact during pouring and storage.

Noroña said the tasting room uses its Plum for specialty and library wines outside its normal tasting menu as well as port-style wines. The system’s digital display shows the label information, wine details and ounces left in the bottles within it. Its opening and storage system makes it possible to keep a high-end bottle “on tap” in a manner once limited to box wines.

A motorized needle pierces wine closures ranging from cork to screwtop, using argon gas to preserve the wine as it extracts servings pour by pour and regulates the bottles’ temperatures individually. The end goals: preserving a fancy bottle for someone who wants to drink it gradually, and serving it at the optimum temperature on-demand.

The Plum device is for sale as well as available for specialty tastings – Noroña said one customer thus far has made the $1,999 purchase for home use. Inquisitive wine-lovers may also notice the device starting to appear in hotel rooms, where the by-the-glass dispensing option can function as a kind of minibar.

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