Leftover wine-grape seeds become healthy, eco-friendly oils, flours, soaps and more. The skins are turned into compost.
THIS FALL, Washington is expected to harvest a record quarter-million tons of wine grapes, and the only thing the winemakers really end up keeping in the end is the juice.
That’s a lot of skins and seeds left behind when all the initial winemaking is completed. And two Washington entrepreneurs have figured out how to turn them into gourmet products.
Eric Leber grew up around the Washington wine industry. His father, Ted, who died late last year, was one of the founders of Associated Vintners — now Columbia Winery in Woodinville.
Other than helping to plant the winery’s estate vineyard in the early 1960s, when he was a teenager, Leber never got into the wine game. Instead, he became a professor of organic chemistry and taught at Heritage College in the Yakima Valley community of Toppenish. That background ultimately led him back to the wine industry, specifically to figure out how to use some of those leftover parts of the grapes.
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In 2007, Leber and his partner, Lori Ramonas, started AprèsVin as a bit of a retirement project. During wine-grape harvest, wineries deliver the leftover waste to them at their processing plant near Whitstran. After separating and drying the seeds, AprèsVin squeezes them to produce grape seed oils.
Leber and Ramonas even keep the varieties of wine-grape seeds separate, making and bottling oils from the state’s top four grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling and chardonnay. And each one tastes different.
AprèsVin also makes flavored oils, blending everything from blood orange and grapefruit to chipotle peppers and North African spices.
Then the crushed grape seeds are turned into gluten-free flours, again separated by wine grape varieties. AprèsVin makes other products, including four soaps made with grape seed oils and a delicious smoked sea salt using chardonnay vine trimmings.
It’s not only good business, but also environmentally sound, as it reduces the waste created by the fast-growing Washington wine industry. The grape skins, which are separated from the seeds, are sent off to be turned into compost.
Leber feels a little responsible for the byproducts of the wine industry because his father was a pioneer in the business nearly 60 years ago, so he gains some satisfaction by turning the waste into something useful — and healthy.
Grape seed oils are more shelf-stable than olive oils. They also have a higher smoke point than olive oils. And they’re loaded with vitamin E, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
A number of Seattle chefs use AprèsVin’s oils and flours, and the products also are catching on with consumers. They are available at Oil & Vinegar stores across the United States, including locations at Bellevue Square, River Park Square in Spokane and Clackamas Town Center near Portland.
AprèsVin is producing the kind of wine country gourmet products we all can get behind.