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You've Been Served 

The crafters of winemaking, an art developed over thousands of years, edged forward for centuries and centuries taking small but consequential steps in the practice of fermenting grape juice into wine. It was a necessity, since water wasn't always so potable.

Artifacts and fossils of a variety of items like the horn of an animal, earthen vessels, carved wood, decorative urns and eventually glass and metal objects remain to tell the tales of how the ancients quenched their thirst with this magical liquid.

While progress in drinking containers and bottles was being made, winemaking evolved with advances in viticulture, disease prevention, vinification, technology, cellaring and other systems.

We may be at the dawn of a new day with screw caps and cardboard-box wine and glassware that lights up. Yet appreciating wine is still something best done slowly and simply -- one swirl, one sniff, one sip at a time.

And to further that process along, technology has taken a small step back and a giant leap forward with the development of a "smart" machine that functions somewhat like an old automat, dispensing proportioned wine pours in a matter of seconds. Best of all, there is now one in New Orleans.

Called Enomatics, the devices at W.I.N.O. (Wine Institute of New Orleans, 610 Tchoupitoulas St., 324-8000) are capable of serving tastes of 80 wines in pristine condition with pushbutton speed.

W.I.N.O. customers purchase a smart card in varying prepaid amounts, for example $10 or $50. They can then wander around the wine stations and check out the wide variety of wines and the price per ounce. Tastes are available in one-, two- or four-ounce pours. Once a wine is selected, the card is inserted in a slot at the station, the glass is held under the spout, the button is pressed, and "you are served!" It's that simple.

Well, maybe not. What appears to be exceedingly simple is actually a complex system employing modern information technology. The system's built-in software tracks the bottle levels, tasters' selections, each card's remaining dollar amount and can print out a record of what was tasted.

After the wine is released into the taster's glass, the system injects a blanket of nitrogen so the remainder of the wine is preserved for up to 30 days.

W.I.N.O. owner Bryan Burkey says that no bottle stays in the system very long because it is in use so much. He uses the Enomatic to dispense pours for students in wine classes that he conducts at the institute. In addition, regular clients stop by frequently, searching for a wine to pair with dinner or to bring to an event.

Since W.I.N.O. is also a retail shop featuring the same wines showcased in the Enomatic, customers can sample a slew of wines before making a decision on a bottle purchase.

W.I.N.O. also fills the role of a trendy wine bar or tasting room on weekends when 20 or so people converge in the space to marvel at the workings of modern science while enjoying an art as old as mankind.

The featured wines change frequently. On a recent visit, Guigal Cote Roti could be had for $6.50 an ounce; Drouhin Meursault for $4.30; Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages for $6.50; Chateau D'Yquem for $50; and Chateau Margaux for $31.50.

click to enlarge Brian Burkey draws a quick pour off of the Enomatic system, - which allows access to the wine one pour at a time without - exposing the remainder of the bottle. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Brian Burkey draws a quick pour off of the Enomatic system, which allows access to the wine one pour at a time without exposing the remainder of the bottle.
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