Sound: "We'll start with the lighter oil, the Riesling, and work our way up to the Merlot infused with chipotle."
Lori Ramonas hosts the tasting at a fruit processing factory in the lower Yakima Valley. This is where gourmet oils are being squeezed out of reclaimed Chardonnay, Riesling, and Merlot grape-seeds.
Ramonas: "The Riesling is very subtle..."
She describes the different grape-seed oils with wine words... tastes light or full bodied, with notes of citrus or "Scotch without the alcohol."
Ramonas: "All these oils are excellent to use in cooking. You would use them just as you would use a premium olive oil. You can use them in dips and in sauces. In fact, in cooking the oils are even better than olive oil in that they have a much higher smoke point, about a hundred degrees higher."
Ramonas and her husband Eric Leber have uncorked a company called AprèsVin, French for "after the wine." Leber is a former chemistry professor at Heritage University in Toppenish. The idea for the business grew from a class assignment he gave five years ago. He asked his students to uncover possible uses for winemaking waste that's usually returned to the vineyard as compost or taken to the landfill.
Leber: "Very quickly we found one value after another after another. In total, it exceeds 40 different potential product lines."
Leber and his wife decided to start with cold-pressed grapeseed oil in varietal flavors. They compete against cheaper oils imported from Europe that are generally neutral blends.
The couple allied with a Yakima Valley company experienced in seed milling. Fruitsmart, Inc. has the machines to dry and separate the mess of grape skins, stems, and seeds collected from area wineries. FruitSmart president Jim Early says one beauty of the new line of business is getting the raw materials for free.
Early: "We like to make win-win deals. With most of these wineries they have to pay to have somebody haul these things away. It's a nuisance for them."
Processing the grape seeds into oil creates more byproducts. The business partners explored what they could do with the ground up seed meal, known as presscake. They dried and ground it some more to make flour. Not just any flour mind you, but pure Merlot or Chardonnay flour.
Vinman's Bakery in Ellensburg is the first to use it commercially, starting six months ago. Co-owners Jeff Bouden and Shawne Melvin mix Merlot flour into their recipe for whole grain bread and baguettes. The bakers say they're delighted with the purple tinted results.
Shawne: "It's extremely nutritional and especially high in antioxidants." Jeff Bouden: "It's another ingredient to play around with. I mean, it's nice to have something interesting to throw in." Shawne Melvin: "Customers have responded well to it. I think that really is the bottom line."
The bakers are now talking with their gourmet flour supplier about selling Chardonnay and Merlot croutons.
Right now, the flour can only be ordered by e-mail. The only place to buy the Northwest grape-seed oil is at an upscale mall in Bellevue, Washington. Yup, this is a company in its money-guzzling start up phase.
At the factory in Prosser, more products culled from winery waste are on display. There's wood stove pellet fuel made out of discarded grape stems and seeds. Paper and ink made from grape skins. The kicker is biodiesel for the very discerning driver.
Leber: "Here we have a [cork pop] Chardonnay biodiesel fuel, which granted is a pretty premium fuel."
At about 15 dollars per gallon, it's unlikely to ever make it your local gas station, but it works. I'm Tom Banse in Prosser, Washington.
Retailers: Vinman's Bakery, Ellensburg, WA 509-933-1850 (Bakes with grapeseed flour Fri. & Sat.) Oil & Vinegar, Bellevue Square Mall 425-454-8497
Copyright 2007 KUOW