WEST OF SANTA MARIA - For many on the Central Coast, wine is part of our daily lives, from week nights to weekends. From driving past vineyards on Highway 101 or taking visitors wine tasting, rarely do we think about the barrels that actually age the wine. One local company is working to bring longevity to the lives of those barrels, through re-using and recycling them.
If you travel down Betteravia, West of Santa Maria, you'll stumble upon the looming what once was the Union Sugar Plant.
The old building is now stacked with 10,000 old wine barrels.
The dark, humid, leaky space might not be ideal for most businesses, but when it comes to Quality Wine Barrels, the owners say the space is perfect.
Quality Wine Barrels co-founder Roger Burson reiterates that fact: "It's perfect. It's ideal for what we're doing."
What the company is doing is bringing new life to the old used barrels. Burson, along with co-founder Pedro Meza, admits they're shaky on the term.
Burson thinks aloud, "We were actually toying with-- what's the right word? Is it rebuilt? Remanufactured? Restored? Rejuvenated? We were going through this the other day."
Recycled is the term we agree upon.
The company looks to get said recycled barrels locally. When that's not possible, they head North to Sonoma and Napa. Either way, the barrels go through a rigorous five-point inspection:
- Inspect for cracked staves
- Smell for off-odors
- Check internally
- Check for leakage
- Check for VA
After that, the barrels are rejuvenated and are certified to be re-used by winemakers.
In a down economy, the company says it's more appealing to a winemaker to pay a couple hundred bucks for a re-stored barrel, rather than $1,100 for a brand new one.
Burson also stresses that conservation of French Oak Forests is at the root: "They're invaluable in the sense that there is a fixed supply, and there's a growing market, and so they are becoming more valuable. The winery uses it, typically, for four years now. If we can treat the barrel in manner that they can use it for eight years, or even triple the use if we shave it and we rejuvenate it, that's a tremendous gain."
The company is able to rejuvenate a wine barrel that would typically be used for four years... and double or even triple its life span.
And the recycling doesn't stop there.
The eight-employee company also sells old barrels for use in your garden, as half-barrel planters to add character to your yard. Another option is to buy a wine barrel-turned-rain barrel, in order to catch and recycle your rain water for your garden hose and the like.
Through Quality Wine Barrels, you can even get finely-made lazy suzan's, tables, chairs, and loveseats. All the furniture is made out of the wine barrels, which Burson calls "the best oak you're ever going to find."
For local residents who are interested in both the environment and in wine, the reusable barrels are a double-bonus.
For more information on Quality Wine Barrels, click here.