New wine in old bottles
by Harris Meyer
Refillable wines, at Whole Foods in London Credit: Flickr
Wine drinkers in many Pacific Northwest towns get frustrated that thereâs no place to recycle the heavy glass bottles that hold their beloved vino. In Europe, people go to their local winery and cheaply fill a jug with fresh table wine for the week. Inspired by that tradition, two Northwest winemakers have begun selling wine in reusable liter bottles that local customers can return for refills. Besides giving you a virtuous buzz, itâs a good deal for a solid, relatively inexpensive house wine.
Last summer, Gordon Taylor of Daven Lore Winery in Prosser, Washington began selling his Recovery Red blend in Italian-style water bottles, sealed with a Grolsch-style snap top, at the nearby Saturday farmerâs market. Finding customers enthusiastic, heâs continued the program over the winter through a Prosser wine shop, Bonnieâs Vine & Gift. Heâs discussing expanding distribution to Yakima and to local restaurants.
At a price of $20 for the first bottle and $10 for refills, Taylor so far has sold about 300 bottles, which are gassed to last at least two months. The wine is a non-vintage red whose blend varies with each batch; itâs currently cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and malbec sourced from Snipes Mountain. The $10 Recovery Red refills are much cheaper than Daven Loreâs well-made regular reds, which sell for about $25 for a 750 milliliter bottle.
Taylor, a gregarious former food industry consultant whoâs been operating the winery with his wife Joan since 2005, got the idea from traveling around Europe and Australia and seeing people fill their own containers at wineries. âAlmost everyone gets the concept quick and embraces it,â he says. âFor local sales, people are more likely to buy a $10 bottle than a $25 bottle.â
Besides reusing the bottle, Taylor says he doesnât have to buy corks, foil, or labels, which further reduces the carbon footprint.
Taylor uses the same liter water bottles that James Matthisen of Springhouse Cellar started using about two years ago when he opened his tasting room in Hood River, Oregon, but Matthisenâs refillable bottle program works a little differently. Customers at Springhouse Cellarâs downtown tasting room can choose from 10 wines he serves from spigots. Matthisen seals the bottle with a snap top and charges customers $5 for the bottle plus the regular 750 milliter price. People then bring the bottle back washed, or swap it out for a fresh bottle, and pay only for the refill.
âYou spend more on wine and less on packaging, you get 33 percent more wine, you get to save the planet, and you can pretend youâre in Europe,â Matthisen quips. So far, heâs sold more than 700 bottles, which he calls âgrowliers.â Heâs also distributing the reusable bottles at local restaurants. His varietal choices include sauvignon blanc, gewurtztraminer, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and sangiovese, priced at $15 to $24. Or customers can order their own custom blend. âPeople enjoy learning about blending wines,â he says.
Part of his motivation for the refillable bottle program was the stress Matthisen felt about dumping half-finished bottles after tastings. âThe spigot system and refillable bottles seemed like a good way to have a simple elegant approach to distributing wine,â Matthisen says. âIt was either that or drink all the unfinished bottles and become an alcoholic.â
Taylor says he hopes his Recovery Red program will be the first of several green initiatives at Daven Lore, including wind machines and photovoltaic panels. âBut weâre a one man and one woman show, and it will take time to get there.â