Idaho Winery Touts Refillable Bottles

Pend d'Oreille promotes sustainability and customer loyalty with 'personal' magnums

by Jane Firstenfeld
Alternative text
Steve and Julie Meyer, forward-thinking proprietors of Pend d'Oreille Winery in Northern Idaho, are selling their Bistro Rouge wines in refillable 1.5L bottles.
Sandpoint, Id. -- Local customers who enjoy a "playful" and reasonably priced red table wine can now buy a 1.5L bottle of Bistro Rouge and receive reduced-cost refills as often as they like from Pend d'Oreille Winery. Winemaker Steve Meyer told Wines & Vines that since the start of the "Think Green, Drink Red" program in January, all but 50 of the 300 original bottles have been sold, and most have been refilled multiple times.

Pend d'Oreille, (pronounced "Ponderay"), the only winery in Northern Idaho's Bonner County, is conveniently located on Cedar Street in downtown Sandpoint, a scenic resort town with a population of 7,500. Meyer is an avid skier who "accidentally" began his winemaking career while on a ski trip to the Alps in 1985, when he worked the harvest at several wineries in Meursault, France, and stayed on through bottling. His interest piqued, he returned to Northern California and spent seven years at Roudon-Smith Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1995, he and his wife Julie established Pend d'Oreille Winery (powine.com), along the shore of the vast lake of the same name. It now produces 7,000 cases per year, sourcing grapes mostly from prime Central Washington vineyards, more than three hours southwest.

The innovative packaging program was inspired by Julie Meyer, who was frustrated by an ineffective local recycling program. Residents would sort their bottles for curbside pick-up, only to have them reintegrated into solid waste and sent to an Eastern Oregon landfill, because there was no local market for the glass.

The 1.5L bottles produced by Saint Gobain Containers (sgcontainers.com) contain at least 50% recycled glass, as do the 750ml bottles Pend d'Oreille uses for its other wines. They bear a permanent, silk-screened label applied by local vendor Litehouse Custom Printing (lcpmugs.com) with a space for the "owner" to inscribe his/her name with a marker. The first bottle costs $25, and is closed with a synthetic stopper from Supreme Corq and a tamper-proof seal. When it's returned for the first refill, which costs a mere $16, the owner receives a re-usable natural cork "t-top" stopper to bring back for subsequent refills.

Owners also get a "user's manual" with the first bottle, a card with cleaning instructions. "We recommend you wash it like you would your stemware," Steve Meyer said. "You don't want any residual detergent. We recommend using just a micro-drop of detergent, then rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, and dry it well."

Even though he's sold only 250 bottles to date, Meyer has sold far more than that in wine. "A lot of people come in, buy a bottle, then come in two days later for a refill, and buy a second bottle," he said. He described his Bistro Rouge wine as a Northwest vin du pays, a blend that changes with each vintage and can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and/or Malbec. "It's a playful, easy-drinking, fun wine," Meyer said.

"People take a huge amount of ownership" of their personal bottles, Meyer observed. Those who neglect to return their "first-stopper-is-free" closure will purchase fancier substitutes from the tasting room; a special favorite is a urethane "crystal" wine stopper resembling an art deco doorknob, which sells for $16.75. Sales have also picked up on wine preservation gear, like Vacu Vin stoppers and Private Preserve aerosol cans for topping off opened bottles with argon, nitrogen and CO2. It's yet another way for a small business to stay in business, Meyer noted.

Although only Bistro Rouge is currently available in the refillable bottles, Meyer said that he may bring back his popular Bistro Blanc in the same format. Obviously, sales of the refillable package are limited to customers who live or vacation nearby, but Pend d'Oreille has distribution both on-premise and at retail throughout much of the inland Northwest.

The winery is growing, and the Meyers are in the process of constructing an additional facility in a hangar near the Sandpoint airport, which features a convenient, 80-foot-wide door and hydronic coils for sustainable heating. Unlike wineries in more temperate climes, in Sandpoint, "Our issue is to keep things from freezing for five months a year," Meyer pointed out.

Meyer is working with local restaurants and pubs to use his refillable bottles in their by-the-glass programs. Meanwhile, he said, "Our clients love the idea of coming into the winery to get their personal bottle refilled. We are both taking solid waste out of the waste stream and getting our clients in the door on a weekly basis."

Posted on 03.02.2009 - 10:36:32 PST
When Steve and Julie approached us about printing their Bistro Rouge label on these bottles for reuse, I thought it was a fantastic idea. This label is a three color image with tight registration so there were some printing challenges, but I liked the recycling part of the project so much that we worked out the issues.

The label looks great and we are lightening our footprint on the earth.

Congratulations Julie and Steve!

David Schuck
V.P. Sales
Litehouse Custom Printing
Sandpoint, ID USA