Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fill 'er Up: Wilridge Winery's Refillable "Recession Busters"

In 1988, when Paul Beveridge and Lysle Wilhelmi founded Wilridge Winery in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, they had no idea they'd someday be Seattle's oldest continuously operated winery. They also didn't realize they'd be on a quest to be Washington's "greenest" winery, but anything is possible if you drink enough wine and talk yourself into doing something. In this case, it was something big - 1.5 liter bottles (on the small end) and 20 liter kegs (on the really big end) of Wilridge's Maison Table Wine.

Two years ago Wilridge was able to start offering refillable wine containers - no small feat. These are the first legally refillable wine bottles and wine kegs allowed in Washington State since the end of prohibition. Beveridge and Wilhelmi put in years of work getting Washington lawmakers to agree that sanitizing wine bottles and kegs for reuse was not only good business sense, but also good for Washington's reputation as a leader in sustainability. 

Paul Beveridge and Maison Table Wine
"Seventy percent of a wine's carbon footprint comes from the bottle," Beveridge told me. "It takes only 5% of the energy to clean a bottle for reuse as it does to melt it for recycling." 

The wine industry world wide has been paying a lot more attention to its carbon footprint in recent years. Between lighter weight bottles like Eco-Glass, which use less glass to begin with and thus use less energy to ship, more wines going to screw-top and Stelvin closures, and the big push in boxed wines, the energy used to package and ship wine is changing drastically - and besides changing the carbon footprint, these choices are changing the bottom line. That means more savings are passed on to the consumer. 

"With reused glass, the only cost is the expense of washing and sanitizing the bottle. With new glass or recycled, there is a high cost of melting the glass to make the bottle," said Beveridge. By offering a returnable, refillable wine bottle, Wilridge is able to offer high quality, 100% Washington wine to its customers at the equivalent of about $10 per bottle. "They're our 'Recession Busters,'" says Beveridge. Here's how it works: 

1) Buy a magnum bottle of Maison table wine either at the winery in Seattle, the vineyard tasting room near Yakima, or at PCC Natural Markets, Whole Foods, Leschi Market, or the Wines of Washington Tasting Room in Pike Place Market. The 1.5 liter bottle will cost you $28...(I know, I said it would only be about $10 per bottle. That's because there's an $8 deposit. Yes, like Coke bottles back in the day. Bear with me...)

2) Drink responsibly. Since it's a big bottle, that means share it with a bunch of friends. Since it's summer, maybe you'll be outside on a boat or on a deck. Whatever you do - don't dump that bottle with the rest of the recycling! (I know, it's counterintuitive! Wanting to be socially responsible usually means recycling it. Stay with me. You can do this!)

3) When you're sober, put the empty Wilridge Maison bottle in your reusable grocery bag by the door (rinsing it out a bit first would be a nice touch). The next time you go to your favorite natural grocers, take the bottle with you. Deliver it to the wine section and they'll give you $8 back - your bottle deposit - or better yet, you can pick up another bottle of Maison for $20 instead of $28. Repeat Steps 1-3. Rinse. Repeat again.

Wilridge collects the bottles back from the wine shops and sanitizes them at the winery in Seattle. Then they are stored and used for the next bottling run. In fact, if you don't destroy them when you're opening the bottles, return your corks too - they can recycle them. (You an also drop your cracked and broken corks off for recycling at ReSole collection locations around the Seattle area). 

It will definitely take some getting used to - but do the math. An $8 savings on a $28 magnum - already a good price to begin with - is a 28% savings. Four returned bottles of Maison and your first one has more than paid for itself. Wilridge may be one of Washington's "greenest" wineries, both in its carbon footprint and its organic and biodynamically tended vineyards, but they're also paying attention to how much "green" they're going to leave in your pocket. 

Wilridge Winery is located at 1412 34th Avenue in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, and in the Naches Heights Vineyard location near Yakima. Wilridge is always served in The Tasting Room in Pike Place Market, and is available online at


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