Lupe Vasquez demonstrates how barrel interiors are sanded after being shaved by machine at the reWine open house on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Matt Stickle, cellar master at Alexana Winery, tries his hand at removing a barrel head during a workshop at the reWine open house.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
The wine-stained interior of a barrel awaiting refinishing is exposed at reWine's facility during their open house on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Oscar Ramirez guides a barrel shaving machine during a demonstration at reWine's open house June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
ReWine partner Trent Thomas explains how barrels are toasted after they've been refinished.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
A heating element placed inside the refinished barrel at reWines adds the right amount of toasting depending on the flavor profile that the client wants for the wine that the barrel is used for.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
ReWine owner Todd Dollinger conducts a barrel maintenance workshop during the reWine open house in their new 15,000 square-foot facility on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Rows of barrels that have been shaved await re-toasting at reWine's facility during their open house on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
A stack of used French oak barrels awaits refinishing at the reWine facility on 25th street during the company's open house on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Oscar Ramirez demonstrates the device that shaves the interior of used barrels at reWine's open house on June 5, 2015.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Leave it up to a couple of Salem guys to create the ultimate recycle for the Oregon wine industry: restoring used wine barrels.
In 2009, Todd Dollinger and his son-in-law Trent Thomas saw a future in restoring barrels and started reWine Barrels.
Thomas was working in the wine industry as a wine steward and took his in-laws on a work trip to Europe. Dollinger was a master carpenter at the time. They toured wineries all over Italy for three weeks and stayed in quite a few of them.
During that "amazing trip," Dollinger said, they noticed old barrels that were no longer used, stored in back rooms. A light bulb went on, and the idea for restoring wine barrels was born.
Upon their return, Dollinger went to work building a machine that shaves the inside of barrels, and the two of them worked out a method to toast them. That was only the beginning of the experiment. Originally, he approached the restoration process as a woodworking problem but discovered that it was a chemistry problem, too.
"The first barrel was awful," Dollinger said. "It didn't leak, but it tasted of old wine, so we had to figure out a way to evaporate the old wine flavors out of the barrel."
The pair worked at it and eventually perfected a method for removing the old wine flavors and figured out the right temperature and length of time for the toasting process.
"The end result was a barrel that responds like a new barrel," Dollinger said. The process is a closely guarded secret.
ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, California, ran tests on the refurbished barrels and found that reWine's process eliminated the presence of brettanomyces, a yeast that can spoil wine. "That was an unintended side effect of the refurbishing process," Dollinger said. "We ended up sterilizing the barrels."
Dollinger said that despite the success, it was difficult to convince winemakers that refurbished barrels worked.
"In the past, they've had a horrible reputation. After a couple of years, people started coming around," Dollinger said. "A Walla Walla community college wine instructor had been a skeptic until a wine that was produced in one of the refurbished barrels received a 92 score from Wine Spectator."
Although they started small, with about 30 wineries on board, they have quickly developed a growing clientele.
"Now it's grown to about 400 clients. We're now in 13 or 14 states," Dollinger said.
Since it began in 2009, the company has renewed more than 10,000 barrels, Thomas said.
The growth prompted a move from the original facility at 19th Street to one five times as large on 25th Street SE — across from Salem Municipal Airport — in April 2014.
Besides the much needed space, the company has also added two staff members and will likely add two more in September.
The company held an open house Friday to showcase its services and its new 15,000-square-foot space. Besides tours, there were barrel toasting demonstrations and seminars on barrel repairs and creating inexpensive barrel working, or cooperage, tools.
The business is saving wineries a lot of money. French oak barrels can cost more than $1,000 each. Old barrels can be restored and returned to production at a fraction of the cost.
"We really like Todd's service," said Lowell Ford, owner of Illahe Vineyards. "He cares about us, the bottom line and quality. The other very important thing is you look at a new French oak barrel at $1,000 or $1,200 each and you compare it to barrels that Todd has refurbished at a third of the price, and the taste results and quality of the barrel has us using his barrels at a very high percentage. I would guess 80 percent. We have 15 to 20 percent of new oak every year, and his barrels make up the rest."
Ken Cook, winemaker and vineyard manager at Cherry Hill Winery, agreed.
"It's comparable to new French oak," he said. "Their process of removing the old wood on the inside and getting it down to raw oak and their toasting process is essentially equal to any French cooper (barrel maker), and the end result is the beautiful flavors and aromatics that you would expect from new French oak: caramel, vanilla, coconut and toast."
Wineries aren't the only businesses lining up for reWine services. Its clients include brewers, distillers and cideries, too.
Matt Hofmann, co-owner and master distiller at Westland Distillery in Seattle, came down to the open house to check out the new facilities and pick up a few barrels.
reWine is also starting to make new barrels from Oregon oak, which is finding a growing niche market with distillers, Westland Distillery among them.
"We're starting to get Oregon oak casks from reWine for our single malt whiskey," Hofmann said. "The flavor profile is so distinct."
Hofmann said the Oregon oak works really well with the flavor profile of their whiskey.
"Astor Wine and Spirits in New York loved it so much that they bought a whole cask worth of whiskey made with Oregon oak," he said.
Eastside Distilling in Portland is also using reWine's Oregon oak barrels.
"We buy Oregon oak barrels and use them for our Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon," said Lenny Gotter, founder of Eastside Distilling.
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at (503) 399-6704, Vpanichkul@StatesmanJournal.com, follow at Facebook.com/WillametteValleyFoodWine and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.
reWine restores barrels for the wine, beer, cider and distilling industries.
Address: 2785 25th St. SE
Phone: (503) 362-1576