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Oregon Pushes for Growlers

(Salem, Oregon) —This winter Oregon vintners aim to change state laws that will win consumers the right to refill their own wine bottles at sites other than wineries. Current legislation allows wineries to refill bottles for customers at the cellar door, but consumers don’t have the same right to top up a bottle from a keg at a restaurant.

House Bill 2443, which received first reading in the legislature Jan. 14 and is now with the legislature’s Business and Labor committee, aims to change that. The bill proposes allowing consumers to receive wine (as well as beer and cider) in “securely covered containers” no larger than 2 gallons.

Right now, only containers filled at the winery (with verified fill levels, a factory-seal and approved labeling) may be refilled.

“You can get wine growlers at wineries if they choose to sell them, but it would allow (them at) restaurants and grocery stores and those kinds of locations,” said Jana McKamey, government affairs and member-relations manager for the Oregon Winegrowers Association. “It’s certainly one of our legislative priorities for this session. It’s responding to a growing consumer trend, and it’s something that’s more environmentally friendly.”

A number of Oregon wineries have embraced refillable kegs since the 2009 recession (see “Keg Wines Cut Costs, Open Markets”), with some finding them a convenient means for shipping wine out of state (see “King Estate ‘Kegs’ Wine for the World”). Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder, winemaker and managing partner of Chehalem winery in Newberg, Ore., has used kegs since 2010 and now supplies them to about 10 restaurants in Portland, Ore., and distributes them to at least two states. Chehalem also refills 1-liter growlers for customers.

We’re “seriously ramping that sort of production up,” he said of the kegs. Sales in kegs and growlers account for no more than 5 percent of the 18,000-20,000 cases Chehalem produces annually, but if customers were able to refill growlers from kegs at locations other than the winery, the opportunities for Chehalem and its customers would increase significantly.

“Having it available in other places will obviously extend our range of being able to satisfy the customers we’ve got,” Peterson-Nedry said. “If they live, for example, 30 miles away in Portland or Salem or somewhere else, it’s not real convenient for them to come to the winery and fill up a growler.”

Already using growlers

Springhouse Cellar in Hood River, Ore., is also keen on the prospect of greater opportunities for growlers, which it has been refilling at its premises since 2007. It has up to 10 taps running at any given time, offering wines from Sauvignon Blanc to Sangiovese. Springhouse sells a 1-liter growler with a silk-screened label (meeting government requirements) for $5, and encourages customers fill it for the price of a 750ml bottle, so the customer receives a little extra wine while the winery saves on packaging costs.

“We’re giving them more wine, and in exchange we don’t have to buy another bottle, another cork, another capsule, another label—and we get a return customer,” said Springhouse winemaker Carey Kienitz. By expanding the kinds of locations where customers can refill wine bottles, Springhouse would avoid having to fill and distribute refilled bottles itself for aficionados who don’t stop by the winery on a regular basis.

“We can’t really do that right now without being like a milkman and driving back and forth on (Interstate) 84 with a truck full of wine—and that’s just ridiculous,” he said. “But if we could deliver kegs, and (consumers) could fill on-premise, that would be amazing.”

Kienitz notes that refilling bottles also eliminates sending them out of the country for recycling prior to reuse of the glass. “Most recycling’s going on in factories in China, so we’re shipping it overseas to crush into little pieces, to melt it and turn it into new bottles,” he said. “What we’re doing is really common sense, I think: just refilling bottles rather than filling new bottles every time.”

The idea seems to be gaining traction with lawmakers, 20 of whom are listed among the bill’s sponsors and advocates. Peterson-Nedry said a reception for legislators following the annual meeting of the Oregon Winegrowers Association in Salem on Jan. 15 was positive.

“Everyone felt that the growler legislation was almost a no-brainer,” he said. “I’m sure there might be some people who have questions as to how it’s best done, or some of the legalities, but the legislative counsel for the OWA is pretty sharp.”

He doesn’t foresee any hurdles to the bill passing. Kienitz, for his part, hopes refillable bottles will be a further boost to the state’s wine culture.

“The idea of refillable wine seems really novel to people, and I wish it weren’t so exotic,” he said. “It’s the way people have been drinking wine in Europe for 800 years. You show up at the bodega with a bottle, and they fill it up—essentially like a gas pump.”

SOURCE: Wines & Vines

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