Co-Founders of Revino on Bottling Beverages Sustainably

Rows of clean wine bottles without labels

After a career riddled in corporate consulting, Keenan O’Hern made his way into the winemaking business. But as he became more familiar with the industry, he started taking a hard look at all the processes that come with producing wine. In questioning the strategies, supply chains, and side effects of current operations, he saw an opportunity. Adam Rack, grew up near The Land Institute in western Kansas. Watching and learning about perennial crops and agricultural sustainability as a kid made a big impact on his future. It’s why he moved out to the Northwest, United States 10 years ago and joined the wine industry.

When Rack met O’Hern, he was running a winery that uses no single-use packaging and that had ventured into a reusable bottle program. Having seen the viability of a reusable bottle program first-hand, Rack knew the endeavor could be expanded. And so, an idea was born. Rack and O’Hern quickly got to work – reviving the refillable glass bottle ecosystem for both wine producers and consumers in what is now, Revino.

I was thrilled to be joined by Keenan and Adam for a conversation about Revino and bottling beverages sustainably as part of the launch of Just Zero’s 30-minute virtual interviews. An initiative to showcase the work environmental advocates and businesses across the country are doing to change the status quo when it comes to polluting and wasteful systems.

The following is an excerpt from our interview with Revino’s Co-Founders, which has been edited for clarity. You can watch or listen to the full interview using either the video or audio player, above.

Peter Blair | Just Zero: Thank you both for joining us, we really are excited to have you with us and excited to learn more about the work you’re doing. So with that, let’s jump into the first question. What is the driving force behind Revino and your mission to revive refillables?

What is the driving force behind Revino and your mission to revive refillables?

Keenan O’Hern | Revino: It’s really the people that are driving this forward. If you look to Adam and myself and our other team members, we all have a shared ethos. We’re coming together as parents, wine makers, stewards of both the land and our communities itself. The founding of this all really started out of a localized effort – looking at what was happening to the end-of-life for, not only wine bottles, but any recycling. Noticing that there was a single lifecycle of these bottles or containers. And that the end-of-life was really just the landfill.

I had grown up between here and the Netherlands. Over there, reuse and the standardization of returning things is so habitual, it’s commonplace. Thinking about that in contrast to living in Oregon – having a community here, being a homeowner, and knowing what was happening to my waste. The stark reality that we don’t actually do these things that so many other countries do. That was really what kind of started building this energy towards a solution. That solution is tried and true and it’s been in practice for decades – to respond to a returnable, reusable system. So that was really the driving force – this can work and it does work. How do we make it work here?

Blair | Just Zero: That is wonderful. And I’m glad you mentioned energy. Because it definitely takes a lot of energy to do this work – to really make this happen in the U.S. And it’s interesting that you bring up Europe because Europe is so far ahead of us when it comes to these reuse systems. That doesn’t need to be the case. We can make these things work here. I guess that segues really nicely into another question that I want to ask. What has been the reaction to Revino’s refillable system?

What has been the reaction to Revino’s refillable system?

O’Hern | Revino: At the moment, I’m at one of our producing partners. Just a few yards away from me are our bottles going onto bottling lines. We were here just last week and we were talking to both the tasting room staff and others that were in the tasting room. They had just sent out a newsletter about reuse and our Revino bottles being poured on site. And they had seen more response than they’d ever seen from a newsletter – more interaction from people asking, “can I get wine poured from a reusable bottle?” And, “what do I need to do to bring that bottle back?” That response alone is so encouraging to see – how a member of a winery, through a club, can be so enthused about something to actually ask about how they can participate with the producer themselves?

I’ll say one other little anecdote. I walked into another tasting room in Newberg, Oregon, last week and they were talking about how they’ve actually seen new club membership go up because of the fact that now they’re using reusable bottles. So people, I think, are really hungry for this. I think it’s a known fact that this is a system that works. And people understand it. It’s kind of that no-brainer solution – I use a bottle, I wash it. I use my wine glass every day, I wash it, and I reuse it. Why can’t I do that with my bottle?

Blair | Just Zero: That’s incredible and it’s really exciting to see that there’s excitement on both sides. That the wineries are interested in doing this, that they’re seeing more engagement because they’re offering this, and that consumers are really ready for it. But I guess maybe I put the cart before the horse. Unfortunately, a lot of these programs aren’t available to people in the U.S. So, how does this work? What does Revino’s refillable beverage system look like?

What does Revino’s refillable beverage system look like?

Adam Rack | Revino: We’re not revolutionary in many ways. This is a system that’s been done. It happens every day in many other countries. This existed in the U.S. not that long ago. And we lost track of that as our supply chain adjusted. So, we took a step back when we came together to start this and we looked at the whole supply chain. Where did it fail in the past? Where have efforts to revive it or bring it back failed? And what’s working in other countries?

What we learned is, the best systems have more standardized packaging. Look at Pinot Noir bottles. That one shape – that burgundy design – has hundreds of variations potentially. Whether it’s at slightly different widths, different heights, different shoulders. But if we take another step back, most of them look very similar. They’re all kind of standardized. In the last few years, things have really started to shift. We’ve started to see these heavyweight bottles moving out of the market. We’re starting to see wine reviewers push back on even reviewing or considering highlighting bottles that are heavy because they’re saying, “the wine inside is what’s important.”

We can put wine in all sorts of packaging. Glass bottles still remain the most viable. So, when we looked at how to make this work, we talked about a standard bottle. We went to the table with 75 wineries. And we designed a bottle that they wanted to use – that could be sorted through return systems, identified on the shelf by consumers, that could be trusted. It’s elegant, it’s refined. The feel is really good, which is important when you’re talking about putting a $75 wine into a shared package – into something that some other brands are going to be using.

Bottles go out two different ways. We have things that are poured directly in tasting rooms and sold to customers from the wineries themselves. And that’s a really easy collection stream that we tap into. We incentivize wineries to collect and have us pick those bottles up – and we take them out of the waste stream. Because they have value. Because they can be reused again. We have a few distributors we’re working with who can pick up empty bottles that are served in their restaurants. They’re there weekly, bi-weekly. They can just pick up those empties as they go about their distribution. So we’re leveraging existing systems. Once those bottles escape these closed systems, they’re a little harder to get back. But with beverages, we have a really good opportunity through deposit return networks, through bag-drop programs that operate in multiple states already.

Blair | Just Zero: It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve got models in place for on-site and for off-site, which I know does get tricky. Maybe not so much with wine, but one of the one of the benefits or problems with beverage containers is they are predominantly consumed on-the-go. So, getting those back is definitely tricky. And I can see how deposit return systems or bottle bills can be a great type of mechanism to really get them back.

Both of you really mentioned the energy around this, the excitement. Adam, you said you’re not revolutionaries, but it certainly sounds like you are to me. When I’m buying wine, I want to buy the wine. I don’t care about the package so much. That’s just a negative externality we all have to deal with. So it’s incredible to see how, when people are presented with this opportunity, they really take it. That leads to the next logical question. This is not the predominant method of dealing with beverage containers in the U.S. We’re predominantly dealing with single-use containers that have that fill, consume, destroy, method. So, what do you see as the barriers keeping refillables from being the predominant way we handle beverages and consume them in this country?

What do you see as the barriers keeping refillables from being the predominant way we handle beverages and consume them in this country?

Rack | Revino: This hasn’t really been in the U.S. for a while. And a lot of that has been economics. Once that equipment left the country, once it got shut down, once it became old for a lot of those existing systems, they needed to replace it or just scrap the program altogether. And when the market drives you to cheapest and the highest competition, it’s difficult. For a lightweight plastic bottle, for instance, it’s going be hard to get to that point where reuse is on par, cost-wise. We are in that perfect market where wine bottles are the predominant option for wineries. If you want to age your product in a container, which is how a lot of wine in the market ages, you don’t have to put an expiration date on your wine. And that’s partly because of the glass packaging.

We’re really committed to that tradition. We can put something in a glass bottle. Five years from now, that wine might be better. Whereas, if you’re storing that in a plastic container or a can, you’ve got 6 months, maybe a year. Really depends on the material. Those are all options on the market. And we’re not saying that’s not a part of the system as we go forward, because they have their place. But for most of the marketplace, wine is still really committed to glass.

Five years ago, I don’t think we would have had a viable business. The market trends have really changed. People have started light-weighting their packaging – moving to what our bottles are, an eco-weight bottle. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to collect in every state every time. But I think the CEO of IKEA U.S.A mentioned, “if we try to make it perfect, it’s not going to work.” And that’s been one of our approaches from the beginning. Start with collecting what we can, where we can, and making incremental improvements every year. Learn from those, expand on those networks, and then we continue improving. But we believe it’s possible. We believe we’ll get there in the United States.

Deposit return systems are changing, as well. There’s a lot of conversation about adding wine to those systems because it’s the cleanest stream of materials for recycling.

O’Hern | Revino: I’ll add to that too, because Adam really touched on the barriers that we faced on the production side. Like actually getting these bottles to market and what it actually required in terms of the partnerships that we needed to set up for that to happen properly. But I would even argue that the larger barrier that we’ve always known was going to be the case was, how do we educate the consumer? How does the consumer know to choose this bottle on the shelf?

We’ve done some of that. And we’re kind of the beginning stages in terms of making the bottle identifiable so it’s easier. But we get this question from investors. And I think there’s something to be said for the collaboration that’s already happening in the reuse space. There are so many companies that are sharing and shouting this message of reuse out there. And the material is all relatively the same. The system works as a circle.

For us, we see that as something that’s powerful. There’s this multiplier effect that happens when you start collaborating with others that are doing this in Europe, France, Italy, Canada. Each one of those systems is doing the exact same thing. And we get to leverage that. We get to show how all of these efforts are working. And through testimonials or data, we’re able to prove that the system is relevant and that it can be accepted. Through that, we’re able to build this easy understanding for the consumer. But it does take a lot of education and we’re building those materials. But I like to call out the fact that there are organizations, like Just Zero, that are sharing this message. That are pushing this out there so that communities can understand how to participate. Because people really want to participate.

Rack | Revino: And that policy front’s changing as well. There’s so many people engaged on this that are that are trying to make this viable even.

Blair | Just Zero: Yeah, it’s really wonderful to see that the policy and the work you’re doing to innovate the systems is really going hand-in-hand. California is a great example. I know Maine has recently done some revamps to their bottle bill, their return system, and made sure there is some money available to really fund reuse and refill. I love what you said about we can’t wait for it to be the perfect moment; we have to act now – the needs too good. It really is. We know that the system that we have is just incredibly polluting. And there’s no such thing as “away” when it comes to disposing of these things.

So, it’s wonderful to hear that, while there have been some challenges, you guys are rising to the occasion. And I guess that leads to the next, probably final question I want to ask. What have been the biggest successes that you have seen in your time doing this?

What have been the biggest successes that you guys have seen in your time doing this?

Rack | Revino: Engagement. It’s people coming to the table. The packaging industry has been incredibly helpful. Distributors, glass distributors – everyone throughout the supply chain that we’ve touched base with says, “Yeah, I think this is the time. How do we work with you? How do we make this happen together?” That engagement and collaboration has been the key to our success to this point. And that goes all the way up.

OI Glass is our partner. They put out a press release recently highlighting this. Having your manufacturer at the table, of the products that these wineries are used to using. Having, someone who knows this industry, does this high quality glass that comes out of these factories around the world. They’re the largest, I believe, by volume, glass packaging manufacturer globally. And they really have the power to start changing things. To start saying, “reuse is a part of our system.”

At the end of that market, at the end of that lifespan of that reusable bottle, when it gets rejected or it gets cracked or chipped, Revino actually sends that back to OI Glass. They want that material back. They’re part of this bigger circular economy. And we actually get to help add value to that supply chain. We get to bring bottles back to a centralized facility, wash them, process them, and then send them back to OI Glass if they are not worthy of reuse again.

O’Hern | Revino: I think we’ve really swapped the “C” words in our space for not “competition” but for “collaboration.” And collaboration has become such a key component of what we do with the business. And it’s true collaboration. It’s a sharing of resources. It’s a encouraging of those other companies, and maybe even providing a platform or launch pad for them to succeed.

We all do have, going back to the beginning of the conversation, that shared ethos. Wanting to be better every single day and to make something happen together collectively. We’re all kind of moving together. It doesn’t feel like we’re doing this on our own, although sometimes it can be daunting and kind of cumbersome. It feels like there’s all these pieces that we get to connect with and utilize and actually fall onto somebody else’s expertise – and know and trust that those expertise are probably the best. That we get to bring and do something together, that really becomes something greater and more beautiful.

Rack | Revino: I really like that quote, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” That’s very true in this system.

Blair | Just Zero: It definitely is and I love that you know talked about it as a movement because cause it really is. I mean, there’s so many different pieces, but essentially, the ethos we’re talking about, it’s so prevalent. And I think it’s only going to become more prevalent as people continue to really think about the negative aspects of the ways that we consume things. And it’s great to hear that OI Glass – the people who are producing these glass bottles and that have those relationships from years of working with wineries – sees this as the future and are invested in this. So, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m feeling very, very inspired.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with us today. We really appreciate it. It’s so wonderful learning about the amazing work that you’re doing. I really am feeling incredibly inspired right now. So I encourage everyone to stayed tuned to Revino’s work.

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