Most recyclers can trace their lineage to a forebear or two getting them involved in their business. Bob Pestoni, on the other hand, cites the raising of 800 hogs in St. Helena, Calif., with his initial involvement in the industry.
“Back in the early ‘60s, while my parents were raising grapes enroute to becoming full-fledged winemakers, I chose instead to raise hogs. I eventually started making the rounds in the area to pick up discarded food from markets, stores, and bakeries to feed to the pigs. Along with all the perishable goods came bags, boxes, wrappings and so on, which also had value, albeit a small one. We called it ‘salvage’ at the time, but it gave me a taste of what recycling could be long before it became the buzzword it did in the 80s. So, in 1963 I started a waste hauling business, and a bit later, along with my brother, acquired a landfill. That was the start of Upper Valley Disposal & Recycling and today we are one of the valley’s primary recyclers of aluminum and tin cans; glass; plastics; newsprint and other recyclable papers; yard trimmings; clean wood; and more.”
Nothing Goes to Waste
In the late 1960s, when it was found that many of the area’s wine producers were having difficulty disposing of the skins, seeds and stems (called grape pomace) from their process, Pestoni’s company expanded its capabilities into composting. “This was material that was just being set out to rot. We knew there was a value-added product to be realized there, so we started collecting and composting it.”
Similarly, when it became evident in the 1990s that leaves, clippings, tree trimmings, brush, etc., were not only taking up valuable landfill space but also not being used to their fullest potential, Pestoni chose to augment his composting operation with that material.
“Others call it ‘green waste’ but we prefer to call ‘clean green,’ since after we are done with it, we feel it is no longer waste. We added a grinder to our operation and started grinding up the wood and green material yielding us nice product to mix with the pomace and create the compost.”
Expansion Can Be a Grind
As is often the case, success breeds additional challenges and as Pestoni’s composting operation grew, so had the strain on their existing grinder. Increasing volumes, coupled with an eye on expansion, prompted Pestoni company to look into the purchase of a larger, more durable grinder capable of meeting their production needs.
“We looked at several manufacturers of tub grinders, but when we spoke to Morbark about their equipment, their representative for this area, Steve Johnson, spent a good deal of time with us looking at our operation, finding out what we wanted in a grinder and explaining our various options. Based on all that, we chose a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder and we have been extremely pleased with its overall performance and the upturn in production we have seen. Perhaps even more importantly, Steve Johnson stayed with us after the sale to ensure that we were up and running to our liking. We really felt that was above and beyond the call, but that’s just the way they do business.”
Increasing production was a definite concern since Pestoni had set his sights on an additional processing site in Lower Lake, CA, about 50 miles north of his Upper Valley location.
“We had been seeing incoming volumes grow over the years, so we were due to upsize the machine anyway,” he says. “However, we had started a recycling operation called Southlake Refuse & Recycling, in Lower Lake, and knew we could benefit from having a composting operation at that location as well. That area is becoming increasingly-dotted with vineyards and orchards so the volumes of green material — coupled with the usual residential clippings and trimmings — are pretty sizeable. We applied for a permit to operate a composting operation on a hill adjacent to the recycling center and hope to begin operation in September.”
Production Takes to the Road
When the Southlake site is fully operational, Pestoni’s Model 1300 will probably hold the distinction of being one of the busiest, most-traveled units in the state.
“Because it can give us the production we need, there is a real good chance that we will want to shuttle the 1300 between Napa and Southlake every now and then,” he says. “And we are also going to pursue an additional facet of the business that we’ve only occasionally touched on: doing some contract grinding. We’ve done some work for area developers and did some orchard clearing projects, and the throughputs we get from the 1300 will make those jobs much quicker and far more efficient.”
The degree to which Pestoni’s composting operation has grown since those early days is impressive to say the least. Today Upper Valley collects 20,000 tons a year of pomace and other materials, creating a range of products including organic compost, custom soil amendments and mulch blends.
“We fill a need in the area by offering custom blends, that is, mixes created for different needs and applications. For example, there is a fair amount of soils in the area with deficiencies — gypsum is one — so we offer a compost and gypsum mix. We also have soil mixes for direct planting in vineyards and landscaping applications. For us it’s really all about helping the area growers and making the best use of everything that passes through here.”
Pestoni estimates that the incoming waste stream yields about 10,000 tons of product, 85% of which is sold back to the growers. Several hundred tons are used in Pestoni’s own vineyard in the making of his highly-respected Rutherford Grove brand of wines, and the balance is made available to local residents and nurseries.
“And we see the potential for an equal tonnage coming out of the Southlake site,” he says. “In the past, we would have been limited by the output of the grinder. That’s definitely not the case any more.”