At a Jacksonville vineyard known for its holistic approach to the industry and environment, simply recycling wine bottles isn't enough.
Bill and Barbara Steele, owners of Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, are "upcycling" wine bottles used in their tasting room with chic results: functional glassware made in an eco-friendly manner. The resulting tumblers and goblets are available for sale at Cowhorn and Pico's in nearby Jacksonville.
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden is Southern Oregon's only biodynamic winery certified under what practitioners believe are the most stringent standards for environmental stewardship in agriculture.
Considered for decades as part of the larger organic movement, biodynamics dates to 1920s Europe, where practitioners viewed an entire farm as a living organism. Certified farms are self-sustaining and practice a form of environmental homeopathy that prescribes "preparations" of composted material applied during certain phases of the moon and according to other circadian rhythms.
In addition to containing biodynamically grown grapes, certified biodynamic wines must be made with native or noncommercial yeasts and may contain no more than 100 parts per million of added sulphur. There are six other biodynamic wineries in Oregon certified by Demeter USA, headquartered in Philomath. For more information, see the Web sites www.demeter-usa.org and www.cowhornwine.com
"You can tell that it's our bottle," says Bill Steele. "It's unbelievably good-looking."
The Steeles, both 48, shipped about 1,000 bottles early this year to the Green Glass Co., in Weston, Wis. There, bottles are "repurposed" to make drinking glasses, vases, candle holders and other decorative items that retain characteristics of the original vessel, says Green Glass co-owner Oscar Wientjes.
"As a result, the glassware is sturdier and stronger," Wientjes says. "It makes them perfect for everyday use."
To make Cowhorn's Topaz glassware, the plant scores bottles with a wheel and applies intense heat followed by intense cold to shock the bottles, which causes them to separate cleanly into two pieces, Wientjes says. The broken edges are file-polished to create smooth rims. Frosting on some glasses is achieved by sand-blasting, which reuses the sand, making it more sustainable than etching with chemicals, Wientjes adds.
The bottom of every wine bottle becomes a tumbler, many of which sport the bottle's distinctive indentation, or punt, obvious to wine enthusiasts. Green Glass uses a patented procedure to transform a bottle's top half into a goblet. While the bottle spins, its neck is heated, causing the glass to flare out and form a foot, Wientjes says. Then the vessel is twisted to seal it off. The entire manufacturing process consumes about 1 percent of the energy used to make new glass, even from recycled material, Wientjes says.
"We don't crush, melt and blow new glass out of it," he says. "This is about the greenest glass you can get."
Stocked entirely with eco-friendly and Fair Trade products, Pico's is one among three Oregon retailers of Green Glass, which has an online store at www.greenglass.com. After carrying the company's glassware made from beer and soda bottles etched with original logos, such as Corona and Boylan, Pico's plans to sell Cowhorn's Topaz glasses this spring, says owner Michael Richardson. Tumblers are priced at $9 apiece, $12 if etched. Goblets are $18.
"It's kind of expensive for what it is, but it actually sells really well," Richardson says. "People think they're just cute."
The tumblers also can be purchased at Cowhorn for $10 apiece once its tasting room opens this month. They join displays of the winery's natural corks bound for recycling at Western Pulp Products in Corvallis and its tin capsules, which sheath the bottle necks and are recycled locally by Rogue Disposal.
"The mission here is to just keep moving forward in terms of recycling," says Bill Steele. "We just want to show people what can be done."
Although Cowhorn is Green Glass' only Oregon partner and the only one nationwide that's certified biodynamic, upcycled glassware isn't the ultimate solution for their winery, the Steeles say.
"The highest and best use for glassware is to actually reuse it," says Barbara Steele, explaining that 75 percent of all wine bottles go into landfills.
So Cowhorn is pursuing a means of reusing its own bottles and similar ones from other wineries, says Steele. A Stockton, Calif., company is gearing up to take in wine bottles, sterilize them and then return them to participating wineries, she says, adding that Cowhorn could take part as soon as this fall.
Of the 600-some bottle styles used in the industry, the company must hold participants to using just a few types, so they're interchangeable among customers who have no means of sterilizing their own bottles for reuse, Steele says. A virgin wine bottle adds between 50 cents and $1.50 to the cost of wine, she says.
"We think it has the potential to decrease the cost of the bottle ultimately to the consumer," Steele says, citing successful recycling programs that have reduced costs for many businesses nationwide.
"Waste has to be turned into something valuable in the production stream."
Managing waste takes on numerous forms at the Eastside Road property, where the Steeles deposit all food waste into vermiculture bins and compost the plant byproducts of wine production for use across 11 acres of vineyard. They wrested more than 80 tons of river rock from Cowhorn fields to line an irrigation pond and are exploring how to crush more of the rock on site to create new roadways.
"Recycling never stops around here," says Steele.