From cask to composter

Wine barrels aren't cheap. Brand new, they can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 and up, so it seems a shame not to use them after they've finished holding all that wine. Although they've been reused in furniture making and as garden planters, I've never been impressed with the results. But there are a couple of novel ways they're being reused that I can get behind.

California's Kendall-Jackson Winery has teamed up with TerraCycle, a company devoted to eradicating the very idea of "waste," to transform refurbished oak barrels into "rotary" composters as well as rain barrels. Because the oak barrels can only be used once in wine making -- to use them more than once would affect the flavor of any new wines poured into them -- vineyards typically have a lot of them hanging around. Kendall-Jackson representative George Rose says repurposing the barrels is simply one more way the wine makers can "tread more lightly" in their vineyards: "Our barrel recycling program with TerraCycle has been effective at reducing our waste stream. We are now looking at every avenue of our wine production process to see where we can reduce, reuse or recycle," he notes.

I do have a concern or two about the wine barrel composter. It sits on a framework with casters, so that the barrel can be turned easily, but I wonder whether the compost-to-be inside will have access to enough air and moisture to break down quickly. Also, TerraCycle suggests only filling the barrel halfway, and that might not be practical for households with lots of organic material to compost -- unless, of course, they could afford a few of them. Nevertheless, I'm heartened that these types of products are going mainstream; Sam's Club and the Home Depot carry both items, which retail for $99 each. And it's so nice to see more alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic bins and barrels on store shelves.

I hope increasing numbers of companies start thinking in terms of reusing both post-production and post-consumer solid waste -- instead of creating their products from virgin materials. Now if these folks could just come up with a wine barrel vermicomposting bin. . .