Winecycling

By Jill Russell

Winecycling – Prosser entrepreneur finds treasures “Après Vin”

After the grapes are crushed and the wine is fermented, what’s left is a sloppy goop of grape skins, seeds and bio-waste. But, you know what they say- one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure. Dr. Eric Leber, chemist and Prosser, Washington’s 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. “It’s still just beginning, but it’s starting to catch on. Thank God for the internet.”

Everything about the company is infused with the spirit of Washington’s wine country. Almost all of the grape bio-waste comes directly from in-state wineries and the products are produced locally by Prosser’s 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, Leber’s 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 father’s 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 Prosser’s Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

Leber says by virtue of his father’s 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 government’s 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 Hill’s 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.

“It’s still amazing, that after six years, it’s still fresh,” says Leber. “I don’t think that gasoline or diesel fuel would look that good after six years.’

Grape Skin Paper
Grape Skin Paper

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 it’s 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/

3 Comments

  1. i read these today and i want to know much more about the ralph and eric leber and these wins. i want to know the ancestlors of both to build a family-tree.when is ralph born???is eric his fsather.what kost a bottle of wine??
    i hope you can help me.

  2. Vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, and OPCs are highly concentrated in grape seeds. These compounds can also be found in lower concentrations in the skin of the grape. OPCs are also found in grape juice and wine, but in lower concentrations. Resveratrol is another of grape’s compounds which is related to OPCs and found mainly in the skins. Resveratrol has become very popular as an antioxidant and is being studied in connection with a variety of diseases.`;’:

    Have a good day

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