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Wine Punts gifts new life to your booze bottles, showing upcycling's profitability

You've just downed a bottle of wine over dinner, and if you're like 75 percent of Americans, you'll throw the bottle in the trash. Or you'll earn your feel-good with the righteous minority and recycle it, where via Bestway's Material Recovery Facility, it'll probably end up in Wheat Ridge, at MillerCoors' cullet (crushed glass) plant.

By recycling, you'll help save 30 percent of the energy needed to produce glass from raw limestone, sand, ash and soda. One ton of bottles like yours sent through grinders and furnaces will, according to Waste Management figures, save 42 kilowatt hours of energy, five gallons of oil and 7.5 pounds of air pollutants.

All good stuff. But nonetheless, it's out-of-sight-out-of-mind for your bottle; its story ends there.

That's decidedly not the story of the bottle of wine you may drink at one of 30 local bars or restaurants, such as The Famous, the Mona Lisa, Marigold or the Briarhurst. Thanks to a local company that collects those bottles from those eateries and upcycles them, that bottle from which you poured will reappear as far away as Japan and Australia.

And if you eat at places like Poor Richard's, Wines of Colorado or the Broadmoor's Natural Epicurean, there's a possibility, albeit it slim, that you could actually drink from that same bottle again in its new form: a Wine Punt.

Hundreds to millions

Named for the inverse cavity at a bottle's base, a Wine Punt is formed by removing a bottle's label, cutting the top off, and smoothing the resulting sharp edge, yielding either a 12- or 16-ounce drinking glass. The final product is obviously chic enough to seamlessly appear on a five-star hotel property or at a casual pizzeria.

Wine Punts, the business located at 30 W. Las Vegas St., in a 5,000-square-foot production facility and warehouse, creates the repurposed glassware via a proprietary technique involving fire and heat controlled by various methods, including a rim polish and annealing (kiln finish) to prevent cracking and provide durability.

"The idea was simple," says 30-year-old managing member Joe Saliba (who was an Indy sales rep from mid-2007 to early 2010). "Why not take something that people throw away and make it into a usable product?"

That spirit defines much of the craft DIY movement, of course, which sees wine bottles crop up again as bird feeders, candle holders, and more. But Saliba and his father, who's also named Joe and serves as Wine Punts' head of manufacturing, have taken someone else's hobby project and turned it into an international company that'll gross half a million dollars this year.

Saliba the younger — who, in stark contrast to this green business, also co-launched an oil and gas exploration business in March — initially made a Wine Punt as a birthday present with a glass cutter, sandpaper and ample patience. Still enthused, he next made a college project out of the task at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, writing a business and marketing plan toward his communications degree and throwing $600 at a website.

"I got my first order for six glasses," he remembers, "and I was like, 'Shit, I've got to figure this out!'"

Where it goes ...

To that end, Joe turned to his dad, an all-around handyman and former lineman for a Fort Carson electrical team. They originally produced 50 bottles on a long day with a tile saw in the family garage. After pioneering the better method, they can now crank out more than 1,000 bottles in a day, ramping up quickly for big orders from the likes of Williams-Sonoma's West Elm brand and Tommy Bahama. Francis Ford Coppola's wife was suddenly sending a thank-you box of vintage wines from their winery, and O, The Oprah Magazine, featured a Wine Punts blurb in 2013, a year in which they up-cycled more than 125,000 bottles.

Three full-time employees have been hired in addition to 33-year-old general manager Jacob Ellis, formerly a chef at Margarita at PineCreek and La Petite Maison. At a wide table of product samples, the trio exhibits new items for 2015, from custom, laser-etched-logo carafes to giant dog bowls made from big wine jugs to salt-and-pepper shakers constructed out of cut beer-bottle necks, cork plugs and beer-bottle caps. Ellis estimates Wine Punts are now used or sold by five big-box retailers and upward of 275 boutiques, hotels, wineries, restaurants and specialty retailers.

Turns out, says Joe the younger, there's a niche for colored glassware. Much like the Moscow Mule revival that's seen the unfortunate theft of many a copper mug (just ask Blue Star Group employees), the Salibas have heard reports of their Wine Punts disappearing from eateries. Not cool — but admittedly an honor.

"You're holding this glass in your hand, and that creates this awareness of recycling," he says. "'I wonder where this has been? Who knows?'"

What Bestway logistics manager Clint Cordonnier does know is that Wine Punts, which pays Bestway to haul unused bottle tops to MillerCoors, has "found an extremely creative way to sidetrack glass from our facility ... a unique way to make something beautiful out of what the average person refers to as trash."

And therein lies the essence of upcycling, a simple, beautiful act of social and creative consciousness.

matthew@csindy.com

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