Company transforms wine grape waste into gourmet ingredients
By Elena Olmstead for TCAJOB
Eric Leber is no stranger to the state’s wine industry. His father was the vineyard manager for one of the first premium wineries in Washington. He knows what goes into creating a great vintage, but also knows what doesn’t. And that’s the part he’s interested in.
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Through Aprés Vin, Leber and Ramonas use winemaking by-products to create things like grape seed oil, grape seed oil infusions, grape seed flour and smoked salt using grapevine chips. These are all things made using what most wineries pay companies to haul off and dispose.
Leber estimates Aprés Vin uses about 3-4 percent of the state wine industry’s byproducts to create their oils and flours. Aprés Vin produces about 3,000 gallons of grape seed oil a year. Leber said it takes about 75 pounds of grape seeds to make one gallon of oil; 3,000 pounds of grapes to get 75 pounds of seeds; and about 1½ acres to grow 3,000 pounds of grapes. So when it comes down to it, Aprés Vin is using the byproducts of about 4,500 tons of harvested wine grapes each year.
Leber said he has contracts with several local wineries collect grape remains after the grapes have been crushed and juiced. Once the mix of skins, pulp, seeds and stems – what’s left over after the grapes have been pressed – arrives at Aprés Vin’s facility in Whitstran, it is dumped into a large stainless steel hopper where the large chunks of grape pulp are mixed. The pulp then goes up a corkscrew conveyor into a large seed separator. The separator tumbles the pulp through a screen that separates the grape skins from the seeds.
Then the same truck that delivered the pulp is reloaded with the separated grape skins, which are returned to the winery to be used for fertilizer in the vineyards.
Back at the Whitstran facility, which is owned by Fruit Smart, the separated seeds are loaded into another hopper where they are sent by conveyor through a large forced air heater. The heater blasts hot air at the seeds suspending the seeds in mid-air, drying them and separating out any remaining skin or stems that may be left in the mix. Once the seeds are dried, they become shelf stable and Leber and Ramonas can press the seeds to order, making oil as it is needed throughout the year.
Through an agreement with the company, Aprés Vin has the seeds pressed and packaged at the Fruit Smart facility in Grandview, where different infusions are created.
Aprés Vin has come a long way since its inception. The idea for the company was born out of Leber’s previous career as a college professor. The one-time Battelle employee went to work for Heritage University, then Heritage College, in 2002 as a chemistry professor. He taught organic chemistry, a grueling class that included three three-hour lectures and three three-hour labs a week. It was a class required for science majors and those going into the college’s pre-med or pre-pharmacy programs.
After awhile, Leber said he decided it was time to change up the class a bit and instead of taking part in cookie-cutter lab experiments, he wanted to show his students how to apply what they were learning to the real world.
“I wanted to make it more relevant, more useful,” Leber said.
So he started taking his students on field trips, learning the role organic chemistry played in industries ranging from dairies to orchards and feed lots.
One of the richest experiences for the students ending up being visiting wineries, Leber said. He said besides winemaking itself being a use for organic chemistry, they also started looking at what could be done with grape pulp leftover after the juice has been extracted to make wine. He said his students wanted to work to find an answer for this challenging question.
So they went back to the lab and worked on creating products from the grape pulp. Leber said they used the byproducts to make everything from biofuel to skincare products. In the end they were able to make nearly 50 different products from what was typically being thrown away.
Originally, Leber said he took the idea to the school to create a school-run business to make and sell the products. But Heritage officials weren’t ready to take on the school-based business he was proposing.
So in April 2007, Leber and his wife created Aprés Vin. He said they still give back to the school, where they have set up an Aprés Vin scholarship program for Heritage students.
And over the past seven years Leber and Ramonas have watched as Aprés Vin has grown. They started selling the products at local farmers markets and craft shows before being picked up by a large retailer with a storefront in Bellevue Square – Oil & Vinegar. Not long after, the buyer for the Bellevue Square franchise location was promoted and is now in charge of operations for all 16 stores in the U.S. Each of those sites now sells Aprés Vin’s grape seed oils.
Aprés Vin currently creates a selection of about 20 different types of grape seed oil – ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to infused oils such as Lime Riesling and Roasted Garlic Chardonnay. Leber and Ramonas also grind the grape seeds to create grape seed flour, which is gluten-free, and use the seeds and oils to make skincare products.
Leber said he and Ramonas are always looking for new ways to use the grape seeds – both the oil and the flour. And they are always working to educate people on the uses for their products.
For more information about Aprés Vin, visit the company’s website at www.apresvin.com or call the office at (509) 967-3045.
by Elena Olmstead for TCAJOB
Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 at 2:50 pm and is filed under Tri-Cities News.