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Tuesday 31 January 2017

Recycling and Sustainability

Hmmm, it’s been quite some time since I wrote about recycling and sustainability! In fact it was over 7 years ago since I last wrote anything about it! See these old posts if you like:

So what have I got to say for myself now? How is the reuse/recycling of bottles at Vinos Ambiz coming along?

Well on the one hand, it’s gotten a lot worse! Back in the old days (ie pre-2010) I used to delabel, wash and reuse 100% of my bottles. That’s because my production was so small – about 1000 bottles per year – that it was no bother to wash a few hundred bottles a session every few months. Also there was no alternative, because being illegal as I was, the bottle companies wouldn’t deliver any new bottles to me!

Then my production expanded, I had much more work to do – more vineyards to tend, more wines to make and look after – and so I didn’t have the time to wash and reuse old bottles. Also, I became a legal winery and so could take delivery of new bottles!

This used to annoy me a lot – that I was no longer reusing bottles. And in fact I used to delabel, wash and reuse tiny token symbolic lots of bottles whenever I accumulated around 20 or so old bottles. Ridiculous really (considering that I was now producing about 10,000 bottles a year!) but at least it kept my mind and memory thinking about the problem every now and then. I didn’t totally forget, even though in practice I was no longer recycling bottles.

Then a few months ago, around October last year, I came across a company that actually collects, delabels, washes, sterilizes, and packages and sells used bottles. I couldn’t believe it! But I contacted them and after getting the information, I ordered 2 pallets (1000 bottles) from them.

There were a few complications at first. The bottles had to be of the right height and width, because I already had several thousand cardboard boxes in the winery which would last me for years. So I had to ensure that they would send me the right model of bottle. The Bordeaux models (straight with pronounced ‘shoulders’ and a ‘neck’) are all pretty similar really, but a few millimetres here or there would mean that they wouldn’t fit into my boxes. I even got them to send me a box of 6 bottles, so that I could physically check that they fitted – not trusting myself to rely on mere measurements!

Anyway, it all worked out in the end, and the pallets duly arrived. I was also a bit worried that they might not be totally clean, but no worries there either. They looked, felt and smelt totally clean and  brand new. And they sent me a certificate ‘proving’ (somehow!) that they were completely free of bacteria or other impurities.

So, I am overjoyed really. Again I can use 100% reused/recycled bottles, like in the old days. Only this time I’ll be using 10,000 bottles/year as opposed to 1,000! I fully intend to order all my bottles form Infinity Reutiliza from now on.

According to their webpage, they collect all the used wine bottles from the local bars and restaurants in the village of Villena, and a few other neighbouring villages. They then de-label them, classify them according to different models, wash them, sterilize them, and then package them up and sell them.

Here are some photos. Though it’s quite difficult to get excited about a bunch of old bottles!

Two pallets of new old bottles

Bottling up - only one pallet left
Bottling up and corking

Saturday 14 January 2017

Clearing up the Clutter (and planning for the future)

This is the new look of my my part of the winery:

Lots of empty space, everything nice ‘n’ tidy, and everything in its place. I’ve spent a good few weeks tidying everything up, throwing out rubbish, and classifying and storing wines and equipment in a more rational and tidy manner. It must be a phase I’m going through, or maybe it’s just obsession and eccentricity, but I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with the chaos and lack of structure in my life (and in my wine business). Which I was OK with for a long time. But it must be time for a sea change I suppose!

This is just Phase 1 of a longer-term project. Because apart from just keeping everything tidy and not having ‘stuff’ lying around at random, I also want to create some specific areas in all this empty space that I’ve liberated. Eventually, I will have:

1.              Tasting areas, where I can organize proper tastings for visitors and clients 

2.              An office area, where I can do paperwork and correspondence

3.              A merchandising area where I can set up my bottles of wine and info sheets, etc

4.              A chill-out area, for lying down, lounging, reading, sleeping, etc

Here’s the tasting area as it is at the moment:

Comfortable tasting area
Those bottles that can be seen on the table are bottles that I’ve opened for tastings in the past, and which I keep there on purpose to prove (beyond any reasonable doubt) that natural wines (ie wines without any added sulphites or other chemicals) can last perfectly well for a long time without deteriorating or turning into vinegar. It’s so boring and annoying to hear and read about how natural wines are so delicate and fragile that they are undrinkable after a few days of being opened. The truth is the total opposite.
These bottles, that you can see on the left were opened on 14th January 2014, (that's 2 years ago - to the day!) and they are still drinkable.

Save the date
ye olde oxydyzed wine samples

Obviously, they have become tremendously oxidized as I keep them there on the table at ambient temperature (which ranges from 8ºC in winter to 25ºC in summer) and closed with just a cork; and which I open and close every time I receive a visitor! They are of course very dark, and obviously unsellable commercially speaking, but the point I’m trying to prove with this ongoing experiment, is that good quality natural wines do NOT automatically turn into vinegar. I’m pretty sure they will eventually, and I’m looking forward to seeing how many more years it will take.

But getting back to the tasting area…  as you can see it’s a very laid back tasting area, with comfortable settees. This will influence the so-called objectivity of the tasters, but for the better, IMO, because I believe that wine is for enjoying and not for analysing or solving as if each bottle of wine were a quadratic equation! By sitting back comfortably on a sofa and tasting the wines in a relaxed and comfortable setting, it will provide a truer picture of what my wines are all about. But as there is no accounting for taste, I will also provide a more uncomfortable tasting environment for the more analytic visitor, ie a high table with hard stools with space to take notes and lay out laptops, etc. I have the luxury of having so much space in my winery, which is sadly underutilized at the moment, that I can easily afford to do this.

No photos available of this uncomfortable tasting area, because as yet I don’t have a table or high stools. But watch this space!

Another area of which I do have photos is this underground concrete ‘cellar’. This used to be a holding tank for wine back in the days before the village co-op went bankrupt. There are 32 such tanks (3 m x 3m by 3 m). Recently I cleaned out two of them, and installed some bottle racks, and laid out all the old, odd, declassified, remainders of old vintages that I can’t sell commercially any more, as the quantities are too small. I’m also thinking of putting in a few seats and a mini table, to do underground tastings!

Cellar entrance

view into cellar
view of rack and wines in cellar

Me building rack with screwdriver
Enough for now.
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