Northwest Wineries Favor Local Bottles

Regional suppliers satisfy economic and environmental objectives

by Peter Mitham
Gretchen Booke
Gretchen Boock from Oregon's Dobbes Family Estate says the Eco-series makes sense for brands in the $15-$20 range.
Seattle, Wash. -- Glass that satisfies the economic and environmental objectives of Northwest vintners has become harder to find during the economic turmoil of the past two years, putting companies that can provide local options at the head of the pack.

“Value wine is what’s selling; therefore value glass is what people need. In order to get this glass at value pricing, they have to cut somehow on the production side, the manufacturing side,” said Gretchen Boock, vice president of operations for 30,000-case Dobbes Family Estate and Wine by Joe in Dundee, Ore.

Unfortunately, cuts by manufacturers often mean lower quality glass that diminishes rather than expands packaging options for wineries. “Glass overall has taken, I think, quite a turn for the worst so far as quality goes,” Boock said.

Yesterday, Frontier Packaging LLC of Tukwila, Wash., announced it will terminate its 2-year-old glass division. In January 2009, a “catastrophic furnace failure” permanently shuttered the Cameron Family Glass plant in Kalama, Wash., which had been built specifically to serve Northwest wineries.

But importing from Asia doesn’t make sense either, whether because of the environmental message it sends or quality issues—and increasingly, an economic imperative to repatriate manufacturing jobs. “From an environmental point of view, it’s still preferred to have it made right next door in California or Washington rather than China or Asia,” Boock said.
“And if you can do it for similar costs, we’ll do it every day of the week.”

Looking locally
This kind of reasoning is why the Eco series bottles made at the Seattle plant of Verallia (a brand of Saint Gobain Containers Inc.) are Boock’s pick for the brands she oversees. The bottles reduce energy and carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing by at least 21% vs. a conventional bottle, not to mention a shorter shipping distance and lighter weight.
Verallia Eco Series
Verallia's Eco-series of lighter weight bottles are popular with environmentally conscious wineries.
Several factors affect the choice of bottle supplier, but Boock said proximity and price are key. She said she pays “less than half” what she did four years ago for glass, based both on volume of glass required and smarter shopping. The fact that she can source locally made bottles is a plus that helps Dobbes—which participates in Oregon’s LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program for its vineyard and winery operations—meet its sustainability goals.

“All-around, it’s been a win-win for us: The cost is less, the weight is less, so then the consumer pays less on the shipping,” Boock told Wines & Vines. “For a wine like Wine by Joe, and Jovino (another Dobbes brand), which retail in that $12 to $20 price range, it’s perfect. It’s perfect glass for that package.”

Eco-series bottles made in Seattle have the added selling point of using cullet—the industry term for post-consumer glass—from Washington state and British Columbia. British Columbia requires a 10-cent container deposit that provides an exceedingly clean supply of recyclable glass for new bottle production.

California-based eCullet Inc., a processor that has operated at Verallia’s Seattle glass plant since 2009, sources and sorts incoming recyclables to separate metals, ceramics and other unsuitable materials—including organic matter—from cullet to ensure a pure stream.

“To be used in our furnaces, it has to be color separated and free of any contamination,” explained Kathleen Flight, manager, cullet procurement and recycling programs for Verallia.

The lack of a container deposit in Washington state means Seattle-area cullet is often mixed with a variety of other items, whereas cullet from neighboring British Columbia—which charges container deposits—is clean. This has been a boon to the plant.

“There so many odds and ends that end up in the recycling stream, it’s not even funny. But when you get bottles from the container deposit system, that’s not generally the case. It’s just containers, and it’s not mixed in with everything else,” Flight said. “It’s all glass, all the time, so it makes it easier for someone like eCullet to process.”

Flight said the greater the possible contamination of cullet, the lower the recovery rate, because the processor errs on the side of caution in order to ensure the highest quality of recycled glass. While standard curbside recycling programs might yield a 60% recovery rate, a state with a bottle deposit might boost recovery to 95%.

Using glass from B.C. has helped Verallia to boost the cullet content of its Seattle bottles to upwards of 60%, but its plants on the East Coast—where bottle deposits are common—have produced bottles containing more than 90% post-consumer glass.

Being able to use Northwest-made bottles with glass recycled from her neighbors—and, potentially, bottles her own winery originally used— pleases Sandra Oldfield, winemaker at 35,000-case Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, B.C. The winery has achieved carbon-neutral status; reducing its carbon emissions through its choice of glass made sense.

“We’ve been with (Verallia) for years, almost ever since we started here, but they’ve gotten more environmentally conscious as the years have gone on,” said Oldfield, who has been with the winery since it opened in 1995. “We ended up buying their Eco bottles because it seemed to make sense. It was lighter-weight glass, and it seemed to help out with the calculation of our carbon footprint.”

She’s looking forward to when Verallia begins using Kraft boxes made entirely from post-consumer waste for shipments. “They keep adding little layers, which is nice to see,” she said.

How’s the harvest?
Northwest vineyards are nearing the end of harvest, with Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek expecting her final Sémillon grapes in by next week. This week has seen her on the crush pad receiving bins of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, as harvesters move through what she acknowledged had been a difficult vintage.

Dobbes expects to wrap up harvest by the end of this week, said vice-president, operations Gretchen Boock, although some grapes from southern Oregon might be delayed till the first week of November. Other wineries in the Willamette Valley wrapped up last week, in what Jesse Lange, winemaker at 20,000-case Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards described as “the most compressed vintage ever.”

Still, most are comparing the vintage to 1999, with low yields driving quality. Winemakers are looking forward to barrelling down the 2010 vintage, with Lange expecting the “very complex and tiered flavors/aromatics” to contribute to exciting wines.
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