Green Glass

March 26, 2010

At a Jacksonville vineyard known for its holistic approach to the industry and environment, simply recycling wine bottles isn’t enough.

Bill and Barbara Steele, owners of Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, are “upcycling” wine bottles used in their tasting room with chic results: functional glassware made in an eco-friendly manner. The resulting tumblers and goblets are available for sale at Cowhorn and Pico’s in nearby Jacksonville.

“You can tell that it’s our bottle,” says Bill Steele. “It’s unbelievably good-looking.”

The Steeles, both 48, shipped about 1,000 bottles early this year to the Green Glass Co., in Weston, Wis. There, bottles are “repurposed” to make drinking glasses, vases, candle holders and other decorative items that retain characteristics of the original vessel, says Green Glass co-owner Oscar Wientjes.

“As a result, the glassware is sturdier and stronger,” Wientjes says. “It makes them perfect for everyday use.”

To make Cowhorn’s Topaz glassware, the plant scores bottles with a wheel and applies intense heat followed by intense cold to shock the bottles, which causes them to separate cleanly into two pieces, Wientjes says. The broken edges are file-polished to create smooth rims. Frosting on some glasses is achieved by sand-blasting, which reuses the sand, making it more sustainable than etching with chemicals, Wientjes adds.

The bottom of every wine bottle becomes a tumbler, many of which sport the bottle’s distinctive indentation, or punt, obvious to wine enthusiasts. Green Glass uses a patented procedure to transform a bottle’s top half into a goblet. While the bottle spins, its neck is heated, causing the glass to flare out and form a foot, Wientjes says. Then the vessel is twisted to seal it off. The entire manufacturing process consumes about 1 percent of the energy used to make new glass, even from recycled material, Wientjes says.

“We don’t crush, melt and blow new glass out of it,” he says. “This is about the greenest glass you can get.”

Stocked entirely with eco-friendly and Fair Trade products, Pico’s is one among three Oregon retailers of Green Glass, which has an online store at After carrying the company’s glassware made from beer and soda bottles etched with original logos, such as Corona and Boylan, Pico’s plans to sell Cowhorn’s Topaz glasses this spring, says owner Michael Richardson. Tumblers are priced at $9 apiece, $12 if etched. Goblets are $18.

“It’s kind of expensive for what it is, but it actually sells really well,” Richardson says. “People think they’re just cute.”

The tumblers also can be purchased at Cowhorn for $10 apiece once its tasting room opens this month. They join displays of the winery’s natural corks bound for recycling at Western Pulp Products in Corvallis and its tin capsules, which sheath the bottle necks and are recycled locally by Rogue Disposal.

“The mission here is to just keep moving forward in terms of recycling,” says Bill Steele. “We just want to show people what can be done.”

Although Cowhorn is Green Glass’ only Oregon partner and the only one nationwide that’s certified biodynamic, upcycled glassware isn’t the ultimate solution for their winery, the Steeles say.

“The highest and best use for glassware is to actually reuse it,” says Barbara Steele, explaining that 75 percent of all wine bottles go into landfills.

So Cowhorn is pursuing a means of reusing its own bottles and similar ones from other wineries, says Steele. A Stockton, Calif., company is gearing up to take in wine bottles, sterilize them and then return them to participating wineries, she says, adding that Cowhorn could take part as soon as this fall.

Of the 600-some bottle styles used in the industry, the company must hold participants to using just a few types, so they’re interchangeable among customers who have no means of sterilizing their own bottles for reuse, Steele says. A virgin wine bottle adds between 50 cents and $1.50 to the cost of wine, she says.

“We think it has the potential to decrease the cost of the bottle ultimately to the consumer,” Steele says, citing successful recycling programs that have reduced costs for many businesses nationwide.

“Waste has to be turned into something valuable in the production stream.”

Managing waste takes on numerous forms at the Eastside Road property, where the Steeles deposit all food waste into vermiculture bins and compost the plant byproducts of wine production for use across 11 acres of vineyard. They wrested more than 80 tons of river rock from Cowhorn fields to line an irrigation pond and are exploring how to crush more of the rock on site to create new roadways.

“Recycling never stops around here,” says Steele.

– Sarah Lemon
Photo by Bob Pennell

Perches 104

March 24, 2010

The last in my series on the perches, this is about the owls at COWHORN. In Perches 103, the picture depicted bones that hawks had dropped around the bases of perches. Last month we began hearing and seeing owls on the perches. This picture shows that owls leave a different “calling card” than do hawks.

Amazingly, on one occasion we were around the asparagus perches at just the right moment to see this come from an owl! The critter in question was about 6 to 8 inches tall and was probably a Screech Owl. As I later learned, owls eat rodents whole, digesting everything from the prey and then eliminating what they don’t need. This picture shows a pancake of hair, bones and cartilage. In the moment however, we learned something truly more amazing – owls regurgitate what they don’t digest. Yup, a 6 inch owl regurgitates up a golf ball of guts which then sounds like a tennis ball when it hits the ground! And that wraps up Perches at COWHORN

– Barbara Steele


The Dogs of COWHORN – Buddy

Buddy, aka No Buddy No! In the Summer of 2007, we found Buddy alone on Eastside Road with a cracked skull and a broken toe. He was SO forlorn. I said to Bill, “If you let him in, he will be ours forever.” I wanted another pup like a hole in the head! But what were we to do? Darkness was approaching and it was really clear that Buddy was not a fighter, but instead a lover. You already know the rest of the story so I’ll skip to the end. As you can see, Buddy isn’t a working dog -he is a happy dog! His other names include Nutter Butter Peanut Butter and Chocolate Moose.

– Barbara Steele

COWHORN tours with Pink Martini

March 23, 2010

Pink Martini’s Timothy Nishimoto takes COWHORN Viognier on tour

Timothy Nishimoto, 45, has dueling careers: one as the owner of a successful wine bar in Portland, Ore., the other as a member of Pink Martini, a jazz and Latin fusion band. Nishimoto began working in restaurants at the age of 15. After graduating from California State University at Long Beach in 1990, he moved to Portland, where he worked for various local restaurants, including the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning Papa Haydn. In 1999, he joined one of the local Wild Oats natural food stores as the wine department manager and spent six years honing his skills as a wine taster and developing a deep passion for working with wine.

During this period, he also performed part-time with Portland-based Pink Martini for nearly a decade, eventually joining the band full-time in 2003. In 2005, looking for greater flexibility in his schedule as his commitments to music increased, he jumped on the chance to buy one of the city’s first wine bars, located in the Pearl District. Now called Vino Paradiso Wine Bar & Bistro, it offers a smart 220-bottle selection and has earned Wine Spectator’ s Award of Excellence since 2007. Nishimoto spoke with Wine Spectator about how he splits his time between wine and music, what he drinks on the road and what he looks forward to when he comes back home.

Wine Spectator: What’s the first wine that caught your attention?
Timothy Nishimoto: I was probably 21, and I had a friend who was a little bit older and had been drinking wine for many years. He opened a bottle of the Grgich Hill Chardonnay, I want to say it was an ’82. I had mediocre wines before that, but that was my epiphany.

WS: Which job was the most influential in developing your interest in and knowledge about wine?
TN: The most influential job was my job at Wild Oats as the manager of the wine department. Every week all the wine managers in the Portland area would get together and go through the approval process. It was great for me to sit in a room with seven other people with a common interest and taste wine for four hours straight.

WS: How do you balance your time between running your wine bar and performing with Pink Martini?
TN: You would think that having this kind of schedule would make someone insane, but being a Libra I need balance. If I’m always working at the restaurant and stressed out and only doing food and only doing wine, it would drive me nuts. And if I was only performing and always on the road, that would drive me nuts too.

WS: Do you take wine with you when you are on tour?
TN: I always do. I don’t ever take a wine on tour that I can get wherever I’ll be. Lemelson Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Thea’s Selection 2006 and Cowhorn Viognier Applegate Valley 2007 were my two choices this [past tour]. Balance is a huge thing for me, and [the Lemelson] strikes a great balance of just enough of those mushroom, barnyard and smoky notes, blended with typical ’06 ripe fruit, and a beautiful, elegant mouthfeel. Cowhorn is in southern Oregon, in the Rogue Valley, where the climate is totally different than in the North Willamette Valley. It’s often desertlike and arid. Cowhorn makes my favorite whites—all biodynamically grown grapes—from down there, and this Viognier is just delicious. Rich, round with honeysuckle and delicate quince flavors, and a surprising acidity.

WS: What do you pack the bottles in so they don’t break in your luggage?
TN: I recently started using WineSkins, which are nothing short of brilliant for travelers. If you haven’t seen them, they’re wine-bottle-shaped plastic bags, prestuffed with bubble wrap. I used to wrap bottles in a sad swaddling of clothes, then a plastic bag in case they broke.

WS: What’s in your personal cellar?
TN: I like my cellar to have wines for any mood that I’m going to be in. I love white Burgundy, German Riesling and a good Austrian Grüner. I also like having things that are older on hand for special occasions or if I’m just by myself.

WS: Do you have a special bottle in your cellar that you are aging for such an occasion?
TN: I have a 1970 Lafite that I almost brought to the French Laundry with me when we were in Napa in October. It was my birthday, but I felt like it was something that I should probably not travel with and then drink. I have a feeling that it might not even be ready yet.

WS: Is there a food and wine pairing or a favorite dish at your restaurant that you look forward to eating when you return from a long tour?
TN: It’s difficult because my chef changes the menu often, but I cannot wait to get home and have his margherita pizza and a good white. I love Savennières. We usually have one on the list.

WS: It’s interesting that you picked a white wine to pair with that. Can you tell me why you like a white wine with your margherita pizza?
TN: It’s the acidity in the tomatoes. People think red wine with red sauce, but white goes better, I think. The acidity in the tomatoes makes it difficult for the red wines. You know the red wines are pretty darn fruity. And there is something about that Savennières and margherita pizza … they just sing together.

Southern Oregon wineries enjoy growth

March 22, 2010

MEDFORD, Ore. – Southern Oregon wineries are toasting success.

Besides seeing an increase in tourist traffic each year, regional wines are also seeing local, statewide, and national awards. Sunset Magazine recently named Southern Oregon one of its top destinations for wine in 2010.

The Southern Oregon Winery Association has more than 60 wineries on its list.

“There’s no question, when we first bought this property, there were only a handful of tasting rooms. And now we are pushing 20 to 30 tasting rooms just in the area. There has been phenomenal growth, and good quality growth,” said Bill Steele with Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden.

Southern Oregon wineries say the amount of wine being exported to other states has increased exponentially over the past 15 years.

In Oregon, there are more than 400 wineries and more than 14,000 acres of vineyard.

– Andrea Pettes

A virtual visit to COWHORN

March 8, 2010

Bill Steele gives a quick intro to Biodynamics® and how he and Barbara got into farming and winemaking.

The Dogs of COWHORN – Bo

March 4, 2010

Meet Bo! Bo came to us from a shelter in Calaveras, California. He is a Catahoula Leopard Dog, a hunting or tracking breed, and is technically an albino meaning his fur is light in color and extremely thin and short. Bo had been turned in by a rancher who found him difficult. Here’s Bo in his winter coat. Seriously, how difficult can a dog be who wears a jacket? Bo is almost 7 and considers his main jobs to be examining the perimeter fence and sleeping. Every day he examines the previous night’s activity and shows us where critters have dug under the fence. We have come to depend on him for this because he finds the holes before they become big enough for the deer to enter the farm. Yes, deer dig and that is how they get in to eat crops. So Bo is a working farm dog who wears a coat!

– Barbara Steele

Earth as Art

March 3, 2010

Do designers find inspiration from these mushrooms? Look at the colors and textures! Every season brings new colors, critters and fauna. I love that COWHORN is alive with biodiversity and is providing a safe haven for Mother Nature’s many creatures.

– Barbara Steele

Cowhorn and the Giants

That’s me with Tom Hunter, owner of Revel Wine – the coolest wine broker in San Francisco! Revel and COWHORN have teamed up to bring our wines to the SF Bay Area!

Last week, we poured COWHORN wines at “A Taste of Place,” which was a trade show featuring Biodynamic® foods, wines and compost. Yeah, it doesn’t get any more glam than a trade show with a booth full of compost! It was a great day and COWHORN was very well received.

The next day we did all the paperwork, etc to make it real with Revel and then two days later … Bill drove a truck of Cowhorn wine to SF! More to come as we begin meeting customers. With any luck initial meetings will coincide with the start of baseball season!