Not just for drinking: winery waste finds new uses

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Thursday, May 11, 2017
New uses found for winery waste in California
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There are thousands of acres of wine grapes grown in California. After a harvest, tons of waste is left behind.

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- There are thousands of acres of wine grapes grown in California. After a harvest, tons of waste is left behind. Now, a growing number of wineries and companies are finding there is more to these grapes than just a good glass of wine.

Vintners harvest grapes at the peak of perfection at the end of the wine growing season. But, for years, wineries have struggled to figure out what to do with the waste, called pomace, left behind.

"When we were doing this for a long time, it was just a byproduct, and we'd take it and throw it away," said Squire Fridell, owner of GlenLyon Winery.

Not anymore.

In 2014, Sonoma wine growers, including GlenLyon, committed to being the nation's first 100 percent sustainable wine region. They are recycling their pomace: white wine grapes get turned into compost, and red wine waste turns out to be a great fertilizer and helps keep weeds down.

"The vine is basically feeding itself with leftovers after you've made wine," said Fridell.

But wineries can only use so much. Each year, California wineries produce more than 100,000 tons of pomace. Now, that waste is being turned into everything from cooking oil to cosmetics.

Chris Simmons is a biological systems engineer and assistant professor at University of California, Davis. His lab is studying how food-processing waste products might be used, other than as compost in the vineyards.

"Conventionally, when you have something like fruit or vegetable processing waste, you would sell it off as animal feed," Simmons said. "You can't really do that with the skins and seeds and stems from wine production."

He's experimenting with ways to turn that waste into fuel and looking at how it could improve your health.

"The pigment in (the skins of the grape are) very rich in something called anthocyanins, and these are antioxidant compounds that evidence is showing play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer," said Simmons of the trend, which started about a decade ago.

There are also a growing number of grape skin extracts on the market.

But it is the seeds that interested Jeanette O'Gallagher, who saw value in wine waste early on. The seed for her idea was planted in 1997. Today, she has released grape seed oil into a line of skin care products called NV Organics.

"My theory was, if I can get into that seed and then make body and skin care-products," she said. "Doing the scrubs and body scrubs with this, you actually get a gentle exfoliation and then the natural oil stays right on the skin."

At the MacArthur Place Inn and Spa in Sonoma, relaxation comes from the nearby wineries.

"We use local grape seeds that are crushed and mixed with some aroma therapy oils and some of our other spa ingredients," said Spa Manager Tiffany Delalay.

The "Red Red Wine" treatment mixed by NV Organics is a favorite among guests. For $235, you get a red wine grapeseed bath, body polish and essential oil massage.

"This is my favorite of all of our scrubs," said massage therapist Kathryn Williams. "This is just so refined and nurturing and all of that. I love it."

And you thought wine was just for drinking.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel