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Austrian company sets up shop in Colton


BT-Watzke, an Austrian manufacturing company, is opening an American division in Colton, Ore., which will officially be ready for business Aug. 1. The company, which is 121 years old, will be selling wine bottle caps made in Austria.

BT-Watzke was founded in 1892 as Nagy and Watzke and operated in Austria and Hungary. During World War I, the company’s Hungarian partnership failed, but the Austrian side continued to work in manufacturing. In 1970, Watzke became a private limited company and began manufacturing bottle capsules. Jump ahead to 2005, the company was integrated into BT-Group, an international company that dabbles in many sectors including the manufacturing of automation and storage technology.

BT-Watzke’s capsules have funneled into the U.S. wine market for around 15 years through their distribution partner, Richard Pixner. But it wasn’t until this year that the company opened up an official American division.

“Oregon and Austria have similar wine industries,” business development manager Markus Lafer said, and historically California wines were very popular in Europe, but Oregon and Washington wines are now on the rise there.

Lafer and sales manager Adreas Jauschneg are the only American division employees, but they are looking to add on an office manager, as their business is increasing due to more and more wineries switching to screw caps.

The reason for the switch is simple: cork taint. Corks are made from bark tissues, which often carry various fungi. When the conditions are right, the fungi produce compounds that can dribble into the wine, giving it a moldy flavor and ruining its aroma.

Some studies show that less than 1 percent of all bottled wine spoils to cork taint, but other reports indicate that number may be as high as 7 percent. In either case, many wineries are switching to screw caps to help reduce returned bottles.

That’s where companies like BT-Watzke step in, with aluminum screw caps. However, some winers refuse to use screw caps, because they believe it gives the bottle an untraditional (cheap) appearance, Lafer said. The answer for these wineries may be a glass stopper.

BT-Watzke's glass stoppers are hitting the American market before the European market. The glass option is around the same price as high-end corks, Lafer said.

But for wineries that choose to stick with the cork, BT-Watzke also produces tin capsules that cover the top of the bottleneck. The tin can be engraved with logos or information about the wine.

The tin tops help stop roaming eyes, Jauschneg said, adding that the average consumer only spends about 1.2 seconds looking at a bottle on the shelf. He said the tin capsules can raise the selling price of a bottle of wine by $1 or $2 because the added flare helps snag the buyer’s attention.

BT-Watzke can produce as few tin capsules or screw caps as necessary for small-batch wines, though they recommend a starting point of 1,200, which even for relatively small wineries isn't that large of a number.

To raise the American sales numbers, the company’s marketing strategy is simple: “The main key is customer service,” Jauschneg said, who plans to spend a lot of his time visiting wineries, providing personal contact to his customers.

While Jauschneg jumps from vineyard to vineyard, Lafer is handling the logistics side of the America division.

They can produce custom capsules in two or three weeks, which requires a steady flow of crates shipped from their Austrian manufacturing plants.

Currently, their office is located on Wall St. in Colton, as their Northwest warehouse is nearby, but they may consider relocating in the future, Lafer said, though if they do it will be inside Oregon.

The company currently distributes to around 100 customers in California through a warehouse in Oakland, and soon they are taking over their distribution partner’s Oregon customers, which totals about 50. Though, they expect that number to rise sharply in the next year as Oregon has a large wine market to tap into.