As wineries consider ways to squeeze that last dollar out of their grapes, they're looking to what's left after they squeeze the juice out of them—the grape pomace, or mass of skins, pulp and seeds leftover from the winemaking process. Traditionally, wineries have composted and returned the pomace to the vineyard, but at least one recycling facility in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York has found a new environmentally friendly solution.
Rather than using the pomace as vineyard compost, turning it into feed supplements for cattle or dumping it in landfills, Seneca BioEnergy in Romulus, N.Y., plans to process the pomace, converting it into grapeseed oil, biodiesel fuel and manufactured soil.
"In the fall of 2009 we will have between 3,000 gallons to 5,000 gallons of grapeseed oil to sell," said Michael Coia, CEO of Seneca. "We plan to sell it in small bottles to tasting room partners in the area and in large quantities to restaurants." (Grapeseed oil is prized as a healthful oil for cooking because of its high smoke point and its light, nutty taste.) Coia said he and his partners positioned their business in the Finger Lakes region because of the abundance of local wineries.
And Seneca's program is not the only one finding new uses for pomace. Constellation established Polyphenolics, a research and development division, a decade ago in Madera, Calif. The team patented a water-based method of extracting polyphenols from grape seeds and skins, which it sells to companies like General Nutrition Centers (GNC) and Costco for use in nutritional supplements.
"We focus on clinically proven health benefits of polyphenolics derived from grape pomace," said Robert Sambueso, production manager at Polyphenolics. All pomace used by Polyphenolics comes from Constellation wineries, but according to Sambueso, the division uses only about 5 percent of the wine giant's total pomace production.
Turning pomace into grapeseed oil and extract requires the use of specialized equipment and quantities of pomace not found in an ordinary winery. Alex Sokol-Blosser, president of Sokol-Blosser winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley, said, "We had some guys coming out for a couple of years who built sifters and then made grapeseed oil in their basement. It was pretty freakin' good. It was so rich and flavorful that it was best just to dress a salad or use as a dip rather than a cooking oil."
Another pomace use is biofuel. Constellation brands Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, both located on Canada's Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, recently partnered with Ontario-based StormFisher Biogas to turn 1,000 to 2,000 tons of grape pomace into "green" electrical energy annually rather than send it to a landfill. Methane gas produced by the decomposition of the pomace is captured and used to generate electricity and heat for nearby residential customers.
New Zealand Extracts, a subsidiary of Mudhouse Wine Group, located in Blenheim, recently made its first batch of 1,000 liters of biofuel by extracting and processing juice from Sauvignon Blanc grape skins. The company also produces Vinanza Grape Seed Extract from the plethora of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grape pomace available in the area.
As tighter and tighter regulatory controls are implemented throughout the world regarding the disposal of vineyard and winery waste, expect to see more and more companies crop up and get to the serious business of separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff—or in this case, the seeds from the skins.