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Winery goes beyond organic

Published on August 15, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on September 11, 2010 9:29PM

Family farm invests in recycling, reuse of its waste products


For the Capital Press

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. -- Don't toss that wine bottle cork into the trash. Or the soft metal bottle cap. And save the bottle.

The cork and bottle can be reused. The metal can be recycled.

That's the message Bill and Barbara Steele are preaching as they attempt to establish a closed loop system that creates a self-supporting environment at their Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden.

They're hoping their effort will gain momentum in Oregon and inspire other agricultural operations to be "green." Cowhorn is the only certified organic and biodynamic winery in southern Oregon.

The Steeles were pleased with the results in 2009. Cowhorn, whose 11-acre vineyard of five varietals was only planted in 2005, partnered with the Ashland, Ore., Food Co-op to collect used corks at both businesses. The Ashland co-op is southern Oregon's only certified organic retailer.

An estimated 400 pounds of all-natural cork, from a variety of wine bottles, was collected over the past two years. That's over 70,000 corks, according to the Steeles.

The cork was shipped to Western Pulp in Corvallis, Ore., and was recycled into form fitting wine-shipping packaging.

Also in 2009, Cowhorn shipped 1,000 of its own used wine bottles that it had collected to the Green Glass Co. in Wisconsin. That company then turned the bottles into tumblers by cutting off the tops and smoothing out the cut edge and making them into goblets by turning the cut tops upside down, adding a glass base and smoothing off the cut edge.

"They're selling," Bill Steele said of the recycled bottles. "The last time we checked, of the 1,000, there were less than 300 left."

The metal caps from the wine bottles are collected and go into the curbside recycling containers.

"We practiced biodynamic standards in the household for quite some time, so it wasn't much of a leap, just a natural progression, to carry it over to the farm," Barbara Steele said. "Everything in nature flows in cycles, and there really is no such thing as waste. It's not enough for us to endeavor to grow great grapes and produce world-class wine. Being biodynamic is also about closing all of the loops and that means taking responsibility for our packaging.

"We hope to inspire other wineries and wine lovers to do the same in their region," she said.

The Steeles explained that in following the biodynamic philosophy, they had soil samples analyzed to determine what garden crops and winegrapes would grow best on their property in order to be productive without using artificial methods. The continuing goal is to recycle everything possible. There is an enclosed recycling station at the winery with five bins that the Steeles and their five employees use. The result is that at the end of each week, the farm has only one residential sized garbage sack of unrecyclable refuse.

"We've changed the thinking of five families, those that work here, in regards to recycling and they take that home with them," Bill Steele said. "We're also showing our wine club members what can be done. We're trying to be inspiring, to educate people about what is possible."


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