‘If only we could bottle it’

By Jeff Kiger

Sometimes an opportunity hits you like a wave.

Or, as in the case of Ben and Diane Nolt, it hits like a gusher.

While drilling a well for their new rural Fillmore County home near LeRoy, the couple tapped something 400 feet below their land that washed away plans of semi-retirement.


Now three years after hitting an artesian spring, "pumping hundreds of gallons a minute," a 21,000-square-foot bottling facility stands by the well with a sign that says "Artesian Fresh" in front.

After 38 years working in agriculture, why did the couple decide to dive into the bottled water industry?

"Everybody that tasted the water said, ‘You should bottle and sell this," explains Ben Nolt.

The first step was having the water from the spring tested. It came up with a pH balance of 7. That means the water has no acidity or alkalinity.

Next the Minnesota Health Department checked the well and it was fine for bottling. Next the couple did lots of research about the possibility.

Was there any fear that the well might run dry?

"Not in our lifetime" was ruling by experts that inspected the well.

By April 2007, the Nolts decided to take the plunge and start a water company.


Now they are just waiting on a final examination by the United States Department of Agriculture.

"We hope to start bottling within a week," said Ben Nolt, standing next to a machine set to package cartons of water-filled bottles with either the Artesian Fresh label or a private label for a customer.

The private label water business is aimed at companies like IBM or Mayo Clinic that could offer water bottles with their own logos on them. It could also be done for a special event like a festival, wedding or business celebration.

"We already have a one million bottle order from Omaha, Neb.," says Nolt.

While the private label business might be more profitable, expect the majority of the 6,000 bottles a day to end up on retail shelves or office water coolers with Artesian Fresh labels. They hope to have the bottles in area stores such as in Harmony, Spring Valley and Rochester.

The process works like this: The water is piped out of the well, it is filtered five times, run under an ultraviolet light and then oxygenated before heading to the bottling machines inside two "clean" rooms.

And that means no human hands or even air has touched the water.

"Other bottlers have to do reverse osmosis to get rid of chlorine and minerals from the tap water they use," he points out.


Testing of the water will be done every day by Diane Nolt, who has her own restricted access lab within the plant.

The Nolts’ water is available in eight sizes — 9 ounces, 12 ounces, 16.9 ounces, 20 ounces, one liter, one gallon, 4 gallons and 5 gallons. And all of those bottles are made right at the facility.

Making their own bottles means no contaminates, dramatically reduced storage needs and eliminating hauling costs. Brad Nolt, the Nolts’ son, runs the bottle mold machine in which small tubes of plastic with threaded tops are heated and blown with pressurized air into the correct shape.

A staff of about eight will run the highly-automated facility at the start. If business takes off, there is space to increase production by "about six times," they say.

Ben Nolt points out that his facility’s location gives him an advantage over East and West Coast water companies.

"We can go east and we can go west," he said. " The potential is huge, if we work it right."

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