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Zero-Waste Wineries Appeal to Spirit and Cocktail Lovers

Written by Madeline Puckette

There are many ways a winery can be ‘green’, however the idea of a zero-waste cellar hasn’t caught on…yet. In a zero-waste winery the excess waste that happens normally is distilled down to brandy, grappa or used in other wine-based products(such as vermouth). Distilled spirits, like brandy and vermouth, are growing in popularity in the cocktail community and there’s a demand for unique products. Here are a few wineries that are using the zero-waste winery ideology and making amazing new wine-based drinks.

A Zero Waste Winery converts wine making waste into brandy and grappa
Turning what would be waste into fine spirits and vermouth? A new market for the wine community


Zero-Waste Winery in Action

BYOB Winery, Seattle, WA

Imagine standing in an industrial building that is about 10,000 square feet. There’s a huge block of racked oak barrels and a shiny stainless steel bottling line. While staring at all this familiar winery equipment and counting expensive French barrels full of wine, you see two copper stills with large open gas burners in full flame. This was the scene we walked into when visiting BYOB Winery, a custom crush facility in downtown Seattle. BYOB takes its surplus wine and distills it into brandy. From this point the winery can either use the brandy as a neutral grape spirit to add to dessert wines (such as Port), vermouth or make a proper oak-aged brandy.

Turkish Still at BYOB Winery, Custom Crush, Seattle, WA
BYOB Winery found their antique copper still in Turkey

While poking around BYOB we even came across the original location of Scrappy’s Bitters, who’s first blending lab was next to a large rack of various distilled liquors (such as Dolcetto and Nebbiolo ) and a shelf full of exotic spices, bitter roots and herbs.

A sidecar is a classic brandy cocktail
A sidecar is a classic brandy-based cocktail with lemon

The popularity of cocktails has exploded. The cocktail market is rich with a variety of bourbon, whisky, gin and vodka, however there are actually a limited number of American made wine-based cocktail components such as brandy, vermouth and wine-based aperitifs (such as Lillet). The increasing desire could easily be filled by wineries like BYOB who have a great opportunity to capture new audiences.


Making Exceptional Vermouth from Surplus Grapes

Cana’s Feast, Carlton, OR

After falling head over heels in love with a rare Italian vermouth called Chinato, winemaker Patrick Taylor realized he had all the tools in front of him to give-a-go at this unique style of vermouth. Traditional Chinato Barolo is nebbiolo grapes (the same grapes that go into Italy’s most coveted Barolo), quinine and a blend of heart-warming botanicals including clove, vanilla, star anise, fennel and cardamom. Taylor had access to nebbiolo grapes and was already making a varietal wine for Cana’s Feast, so after an arduous year of experimenting with roots, spices and herbs he created Cana’s Feast’s own Chinato d’Erbetti.

Cocktails made with Chinato d'Erbetti
Chinato and soda (foreground), Chinato Boulevardier cocktail with bourbon (background)

Cana’s Feast released it’s first Chinato d’Erbetti in February 2011 and Patrick Taylor had trouble selling it to winery visitors. Most wine lovers think the idea of additives in wine is heresy. However, on visits to craft cocktail bars in Portland and Seattle, Taylor was delighted to find how quickly bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts adapted it into classic drink recipes. The Chinato d’Erbetti is so popular they use their high-quality nebbiolo wine as a base. “We never expected this kind of enthusiasm!” mused Patrick Taylor, who plans to be prepared to meet future demand.


Cognac…ahem.. Brandy Made With Mendocino Wine Grapes

Germain-Robin, Mendocino, CA

If you’re not in Cognac, France you cannot call a brandy Cognac, however that doesn’t mean it’s any less amazing. Germain-Robin started with a partnership of two people in 1982 with a passion for craft-method distillation, techniques handed down for centuries from master to apprentice.* (*Germain-Robin site). By using premium wines and grapes that were often bought at surplus prices, Ansley Coale and Hubert Germain-Robin started producing very unique brandies made with Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and others.

Fluid Dynamics Brandy Manhattan bottled cocktail drink
Fluid Dynamics Brandy Manhattan from Germain-Robin aka

This sort of diversity in a winemaking region introduces new amazing products to wine drinkers and cocktail drinkers alike. It opens up stuck markets and provides inspiration for people to try new things and be creative (drinking-wise & producing-wise). A terrific example of a new product line developed as a wine-based cocktail drink is Fluid Dynamics Brandy Manhattan.

Grappa, a High-End Liquor Made with Winery ‘Waste’

Clear Creek Distillery, Portland, OR

The line as of 2012 of Clear Creek Distillery grappas and marcs
Picture by Kenn Wilson (on flickr)
Clear Creek Distillery is smack dab in the middle of the industrial district of Portland, OR. Originally focusing on pear brandy made with the plentiful lots of pears from local Oregon orchards, Clear Creek began producing grape brandies and eventually made friends with the local wineries.
The wineries donate or sell their grape pomice, a winemaking by-product, to Clear Creek who distills it into grappa (wikipedia definition). With a product line of grappas including pinot noir, nebbiolo, sangiovese and even gewurtztraminer, Clear Creek has slowly but surely reinvigorated cocktail enthusiasts to the ancient craft of grappa production. As the demand for grappa increases, wineries can recycle what would be a by-product into high quality liquors.


It’s Legal

All of this can be done legally in a Bonded Winery in two ways.

  • An additional Distilled Spirits Bond with a Wine Premise Alteration
  • Or Just a Wine Premise Alteration (just for handling spirits–not making them)

If you run a winery or know someone who does, check out this direct link to the legal documentation to Wine Premise Alteration at

Written byMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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