Wineries: Bottle Renewal Starts in October

New service will pick up and prepare wine bottles for re-use

by Paul Franson
Renew Wine Bottle
Wine Bottle Renew claims that using a Renew bottle can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 95% compared to using a bottle from new glass.
American Canyon, Calif. -- What’s now regarded as an innovative, environmentally friendly business but was once the norm is scheduled to begin operation mid-October. It’s Wine Bottle Renew, which will clean wine bottles for commercial re-use.

It’s a concept our grandfathers remember well, and it’s still common in many places in the world. The business is already collecting bottles in its 92,000 square-foot facility in Stockton, Calif. The company also has offices and a logistics center in American Canyon in southern Napa County. It awaits installation of the bottle-cleaning equipment, which should arrive in early October.

Wine Bottle Renew will processes pre- and post-consumer wine bottles through a sophisticated process of sorting, inspection, label removal, washing, sanitizing and final quality inspection. The company’s end product is called a Renew bottle.

The company has been collecting excess bottles from wineries, tasting rooms and events, and already it has accumulated some 250,000 bottles. CEO Bruce Stephens expects to work with restaurants and waste collection services as well. He has 3,000 collection bins in the field and expects eventually to process 2.5 million cases per year.

Early ventures to re-use bottles were stymied by the development of hard-to-remove labels, as well as the slight variations that occur among similar bottles, which confounded delicate bottling lines.

Stephens and his colleagues think they have solved those problems with new label-removing technology and precision automated scanning equipment.

Investor partners
The company’s investors include wineries, material recycling facilities and trucking companies:

Futo Wines (500 cases, Oakville)
Hall Winery (40,000 cases, St. Helena)
Kendall Jackson Winery (Santa Rosa)
Luna Vineyards (40,000 cases, Napa)
Parducci Wine Cellars (150,000 cases, Ukiah)
• Sutter Home Winery (St. Helena)

Trucking Companies
Biagi Trucking
VinLux Transport

Material Recycling Facilities
• BLT Enterprises
• California Waste Recovery Systems
• Napa Recycling

In addition to investors, Upper (Napa) Valley Disposal & Recycling is a collection partner.

Why invest?
Bob Torres, principal and senior vice president of operations at 14-million-case Trinchero Family Estates, parent of Sutter Home, says, "When approached by Wine Bottle Renew, we thought the concept was a great idea. We have always strived to be a green company, and this project fits into our overall environmental policies. From sustainable farming, solar installations, recycling and energy efficiency, we are continually looking for new and innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint as well as be a green sustainable company. Wine Bottle Renew corresponds perfectly with those objectives and we hope that its success will bring an entire new way of thinking on how wine bottles are re-used.”

Robert Boller, vice president of sustainability, Jackson Family Farms, added: "Europeans have a long standing tradition of refilling wine bottles at their local shop, and it's exciting for us to support efforts to transition this practice to contemporary wineries in the U.S." 

Likewise, Tom Thornhill, a partner at Parducci Wine Estates, part of Mendocino Wine Co., says the re-used bottles should be both environmentally attractive and economically effective. “They should be able to offer the same bottle ready for re-use at a slight discount over new bottles.”

Stephens says he has customers lined up for the services.

Torres says Trinchero Family Estates will be trying the Wine Bottle Renew bottles in the future.

"We're very focused on sustainable business practices, and eager to see how Wine Bottle Renew's services can fit into our program," says Jackson’s Boller.

Likewise, Parducci’s Thornhill expects to use the bottles in certain places. “We tend to use more standardized bottle types,” he says.
He says the delabeling service is also of interest. “We’ve had to remove export labels and replace them with domestic versions, for example.”

For now, Wine Bottle Renew is finding steady business removing labels from bottles using a cold process it developed. Stephens says they can remove labels from 1,200 cases per day, including pressure-sensitive labels. It also intends to decant wine from bottles under protective gas, which is sometimes necessary to correct faults. It expects also to offer these as mobile services that go to wineries.

A demanding process

Each wine bottle the company receives and processes is visually inspected for damage, scanned and sorted for type and color. Each bottle is electronically matched to a database of bottle styles and colors from all major glass manufacturers. The company expects to process about 100 types of bottles.

When Wine Bottle Renew receives an order, the inventory will be allocated and then moved to delabeling and sterilization production lines. The label and glue removal process is thorough, and does not harm the glass surface.

The state-of-the-art bottle-washing system is approved by the California Department of Health Services. It utilizes high temperatures and specialized environmentally safe solutions to clean and decontaminate the bottles.

Cleaned bottles are visually inspected again and packed either in bulk or customer pre-printed cases for shipment. Each processed bottle is laser etched with a logo for quality control tracking purposes. The plant will be able to process 5,000 cases per day.

Environmentally friendly

The process of washing a wine bottle for re-use generates less than 5% of the carbon emissions created by virgin glass bottle production.

Renew estimates that 60% of a wine’s carbon footprint is from the production of the wine bottle. Using a Renew bottle reduces that production carbon footprint as much as 95%, according to the company.

Re-use of wine bottles not only cuts the carbon footprint, it reduces the amount of glass that ends up in landfills. According to recent statistics, more than 300 million cases of wine are sold in the United States every year. Currently, none of the bottles are re-used, and the EPA estimates that 70% end up in landfills. With 10% of landfills consisting of glass, Renew hopes to help transform a throwaway culture and look at reusing and recycling bottles to reduce waste and help the environment.

Company management
Bruce Stephens
CEO Bruce Stephens is an entrepreneur who has founded and sold a number of companies. He’s also a home winemaker, which interested him in the business.

President Bill Dodd is a Napa County supervisor who worked in his family’s company, Diversified Water Systems, DBA Culligan Water, before acquiring it and ultimately selling it to U.S. Filter Corp. 

COO Chris Ronson was president/CEO and majority owner of Escalon Packers Inc., a specialty tomato cannery in Escalon, Calif., which he sold to HJ Heinz in 1991. He was a founding member and past president/CEO of Evergreen Glass Inc., a rewasher and distributor of wine bottles that installed the first state-of-the-art wine bottle-washing system in California in 1995. Evergreen Glass Inc. was sold in 2000.

Bottle Collection

Wine Bottle Renew is actively looking for high-quality pre-consumer wine bottles.

In Phase I of its bottle procurement program, it is sourcing bottles from material recycling facilities throughout California’s major wine regions. These facilities are centralized collectors for wine bottles that are destined for crushing into the cullet used to manufacture new bottles.

The company can process bottles that are taken off bottling lines because of bottling issues such as labels, corks, short fills or varietal changes. It will also take winery and bottle manufacturer and supplier overstock bottles (older than one year) or dirty bottles that cannot or should not be sold. They also accept bottles used in tasting rooms that can be sorted and washed.

To facilitate collection at wineries, Wine Bottle Renew supplies plastic collection bins to store wine bottles for pickup by the local MRF. The collapsible bin measures 45″ W x 48″ L x 34″ H and holds approximately 500 bottles.

Bin drop-off and pickup volumes are determined by analyzing a winery’s average wine bottle use per month. However, picking up small quantities of bins is not cost effective.
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