By Jill Russell
Winecycling – Prosser entrepreneur finds treasures Après Vin
After the grapes are crushed and the wine is fermented, whats left is a sloppy goop of grape skins, seeds and bio-waste. But, you know what they say- one mans trash, is another mans treasure. Dr. Eric Leber, chemist and Prosser, Washingtons newest wine country entrepreneur, has been taking the bio-waste from local wineries, and turning it into over 50 products made from grape seed oil.
While teaching organic chemistry at Heritage University, Leber has been able to use this little seed to create things like wood stain, ink, even corks. But six years ago after founding his company, Après Vin- French for after the wine, his primer focus has been creating the ultimate line of culinary cooking oil.
In less than two years, the company has gone from a tiny little enterprise, to a larger one, but it still has a long way to grow, said Leber. Its still just beginning, but its starting to catch on. Thank God for the internet.
Everything about the company is infused with the spirit of Washingtons wine country. Almost all of the grape bio-waste comes directly from in-state wineries and the products are produced locally by Prossers FruitSmart Company.
Although FruitSmart is an organically certified company, products by Après Vin are not because they are not produced with organic grapes. Leber says organic grapes are difficult to come by, due to shortages of local organic vineyards.
Certified or not, this has not seemed to be a problem for the growing company. The flavor-infused cooking oils have found a strong niche market with the culinary crowds and specialty foods shops. No order is too strange or outlandish for Leber, who says Chef Frank Magaña of Picazo 7 Seventeen restaurant and wine bar in downtown Prosser regularly orders vanilla chardonnay grape seed oil.
The actual production is a huge undertaking. Wine pumice is collected from the wineries, separated, dried, and cold pressed with a European presses. It takes about 3,000 pounds of grapes- enough for 300 gallons of wine, to produce the 75 pounds of dried grape seeds needed to make just one gallon of grape seed oil.
Leber explained although not a winemaker by trade, a passion for the industry has been in his family for over 50 years. In 1956, Lebers father, Ralph, teamed up with his brother and professors of Washington State University, to create Associated Vintners, the first premium winery in the state. Later, his fathers company would become Columbia Winery, which continues to function today in Woodinville, Washington.
In July 2008, Ralph Leber, was inducted into the 2008 Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. This annual function is organized and hosted by Prossers Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.
Leber says by virtue of his fathers activities, he became aware of the industry, and used that knowledge during his time teaching at Heritage University. Upon receiving a grant by the Economic Development Administration, as part of the federal governments Department of Commerce, Leber and his students began to examine the possibly of recovering value from agricultural waste. The group started with orchards, transitioned to dairy feed lots, and then found themselves at Apex Washington Hills Richmond Winery, which at the time was located in the old Dairy gold plant in Sunnyside.
Pretty quickly, we discovered that there is still a lot of value in the bi-products from winemaking, said Leber.
Over the next several years, the team successfully concluded that there were over 50 potential commercial uses that can be harvested from the grape bio-waste. Some of the most impressive discoveries include: writing ink, soap, a natural wood and shoe polish, and a chardonnay bio-fuel- which he has kept in a small glass wine bottle for over 6 years.
Its still amazing, that after six years, its still fresh, says Leber. I dont think that gasoline or diesel fuel would look that good after six years.
Besides heating homes and powering cars, there has been numerous health benefits associated with grape seed oil. Varietal grape seed oils are a rich source of healthful polyunsaturated oils, antioxidants, and other photochemical. Leber explained the oil also contains essential fatty acids, such as Linolenic (LNA) and Linoleic (LA) acids, which provide contribute to cellular function and vitality. Additionally, grape seed oil has a particularly high level or heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and half the saturated fat of olive oil- Rachael Ray, eat your heart out!
Currently, Leber focuses full time on running the business, but has promised that once his business becomes profitable, he will create a scholarship for Heritage University students to continue researching sustainable uses for winery bio-waste. He also stays connected to academia by giving lectures about sustainable winemaking. Meanwhile, he explained the newest classes of innovators have continued the research his former students began years ago. Leber explains its been incredible to watch the growth of winemaking in Washington over the past 50 years. Despite a shaky economy, Wine County continues to blossom, keeping Leber knee-deep in bio-waste and challenging him to ponder new uses Après Vin.
Après Vin products can be purchased at www.apresvin.com.
Jill Russell is a Journalist/blogger at www.recordbulletin.com. Her blog can be found at: http://readjillsblog.blogspot.com/