Eric Leber and his wife Lori Ramonas have found success turning grape pomace into varietal grape seed oils and flours. (Courtesy AprèsVin)
For more than a decade, Eric Leber has been extracting value-added products from grape waste. One of his latest projects is to develop beverages rich in grape seed antioxidants.
Leber and his wife, Lori Ramonas, founded AprèsVin, a small family-owned business, in 2007. AprèsVin, which means “after the wine,” was one of the first companies in the United States to pioneer commercial products of varietal grape seed oils and flours.
Their product list has expanded beyond grape seed oils and flours to include soaps and products infused with the smoke of grapevine prunings, such as smoked Chardonnay sea salt and smoked Chardonnay grapeseed oil.
The genesis for AprèsVin began in the early 2000s when Leber was a chemistry professor at Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington. He taught hands-on chemistry and had his students experiment with value-added products from pomace left over from winemaking in the Yakima Valley.
His students developed prototypes of more than 50 products, including varietal grape seed oils and flours made from pomace. Leber, an advocate of science education, donates proceeds of AprèsVin sales to support a science scholarship at Heritage.
Leber’s father, Ted Leber, was one of the original ten winemakers of Associated Vintners, a group of amateur winemakers who produced some of the first premium varietal wines in Washington in the mid-1950s and helped launch the state’s wine industry. AprèsVin’s scripted AV logo is the same logo used by Associated Vintners more than 50 years ago.
Leber says he is extracting more goodness from the grape with his products.
The cold-pressed oils, made from the seeds of Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, are extremely high in antioxidants and phytochemicals and have a high smoke point of 485°F, according to Leber. Flours made from grape seed are naturally gluten free and ground to the same particle size as wheat flour. The grape seed soaps are made from finely ground grape seed, swirled with coarsely ground grape seed for exfoliating.
Although Leber didn’t specify annual sales of AprèsVin, sales have doubled from a few years ago and were up 43 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to same period in 2014.
AprèsVin is located in Prosser, Washington, and contracts with FruitSmart, Inc., also in Prosser, to separate grape seeds from pomace that is picked up free of charge from Yakima Valley wineries during crush.
“The wineries are more than happy to have us pick up their pomace, saving them costs of around $40 per ton to haul it away to the landfill,” said Leber. Pomace contains skins, seeds, pulp, stems, and other organic material.
He uses about 500,000 pounds of grape seed annually to make products that are being sold in stores across North America. While that’s a lot, Leber estimated that he’s only using about 4 percent of the pomace produced by Washington wineries. His dream is to find a home for all of the grape pomace.
It takes about 3,000 pounds of grapes to yield 75 pounds of seeds. Three tons of grapes produces about one ton of pomace. In the last year, he’s been experimenting with using grape seed as a means to boost the antioxidant levels in selected beverages. Washington State University’s Dr. Carolyn Ross has performed sensory evaluations on his new beverage product.
Details about the product were not shared due to patent concerns.
“It’s a work in progress, but I’m excited about the potential,” said Leber. “It could be a way to increase your antioxidant intake by several thousand fold in a way that’s palatable.” •
Melissa Hansen is the research program director for the Washington Wine Commission. Hansen previously was an associate editor at Good Fruit Grower from 1996 through 2015. Read her stories: Author Index