Local Wineries & Cider Makers Tackle Food Waste with Collaboration
By Corey Burdick
The crispness of fall has given way to chillier nights and snow dusted mornings throughout much of Vermont. It’s the season to tuck in and enjoy the view from a cozy fire (pre or post outdoor adventuring), with a glass of local wine or cider in hand. As you sip slowly, here's some food (or drink) for thought: what happens to the waste produced in the creation of your beverage? Where does that spent grape must and pomace go, aside from the compost bin?
Good news. Unsurprisingly, Vermont is addressing this issue the way Vermonters do: through collaboration.
Rhiannon Johnson is a wearer of many hats at Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven, including tasting room manager and events coordinator. She says that this year marks the third consecutive that the vineyard has given away grape skins to be used by fellow beverage producers in their respective products. Stowe Cider, Otter Creek Brewing, Shacksbury Cider, and ZAFA Wines have all been recipients of the skins, thus giving the “waste” product a second life.
“All of these folks will be doing (or have done) co-fermentation with the skins to add pigment, tannin, and perhaps some additional flavor to their own products,” Johnson said, “We've done this for a couple of years now and the demand has grown significantly this past year.”
So, just how much "waste" are we talking about? According to Johnson, this year the team harvested 61,000 pounds of grapes, which produces an estimated 20,000 pounds of pomace.
The process of diverting the skins from what would have been a trip to the compost pile takes some extra effort. Johnson needs to let recipients know when the winery is pressing, get their bins in place, and then get those filled bins picked up quickly before the fresh byproduct can begin to ferment. Even with the additional work, Johnson feels the collaboration is beneficial in terms of increasing customer awareness around Vermont grape production and she hopes that it creates a synergistic relationship whereby consumers are then compelled to try Vermont wines. Johnson worked previously at Shelburne Vineyard, which also gave away its skins to brewers and cider makers. “. . . I think it’s pretty common in the Vermont wine world,” she says.
One of Lincoln Peak's partners is Shacksbury Cider, based in Vergennes. Co-owner David Dolginow says this is the first year they’ve used the vineyard's grape skins in their cider, but it certainly doesn't represent their initial foray into incorporating grapes into cider. Over the past year, they have co-fermented and aged a cider on La Crescent grape skins from La Garagista Farm + Winery and also created a rosé cider with Marquette grapes from Shelburne Vineyard.
Shacksbury can use the tannin-rich grape skins to broaden the range of apple varieties they are able to incorporate into their heritage style ciders. Shacksbury seeks apples cultivated specifically for cider making, and has even cultivated their own varieties through the Lost Apple project, but there’s a shortage of these tannic cidermaking apples in Vermont. Using only apples bred for eating or cooking, like McIntosh or Empire, can lead to a very “one-dimensional” product. That’s where the wine grapes come in.
“The cider picks up tannin, flavor, and color from the grape skins, making something entirely new. This process has led us to increase our purchasing of Vermont apples significantly in the past 14 months,” Dolginow explains. Nicholas Johnson, Cider Maker at Shacksbury, concurs, adding that, “The art of co-fermenting is very satisfying and has unlimited potential in my opinion.”
Winemakers who have started on the grape side also like the co-fermenting concept, and different grape-apple hybrid styles have become sought-after Vermont beverages. Another recipient of Lincoln Peak's grapes and a pioneer of waste reduction in the field, is vigneron Krista Scruggs of ZAFA Wines, who is in her 7th year as a winemaker. For Scruggs, who comes from a less apple-y California winemaking background, combining apples and grapes feels “very New England” and the fact that she can essentially eliminate waste by doing so is a bonus!
This year, Scruggs will produce 400 cases of wine. It's difficult to predict which proportions will be grape wines alone versus combinations of grapes and apples, but she estimates that the wines made from apples and grapes together will likely comprise 75-percent of her production. The great thing about utilizing both in production is that “one fruit can be insurance for another,” Scruggs says.
ZAFA Wines’ latest collaboration is the launch of a joint cidery/winery with Shacksbury Cider that will produce only naturally fermented ciders and wines. Beginning in mid-November in the Soda Plant in Burlington, the two businesses will share a space that will serve as a dual bar and education facility replete with a viewing room and disgorging events. It will also feature ZAFA Wines and Shacksbury Ciders’ debut collaboration on draft: a wild apple cider from 2017, re-fermented with Prairie Star grape must.
Scruggs notes that using the byproducts from grape pressing to make something new is a longstanding practice (Grappa may be the best-known beverage to use wine leftovers). She sees the current interest in Vermont as part of a trend of producers on the east coast looking back at traditional methods in their beverage production. She sees the inherent desire to “waste not” as a cultural phenomenon intrinsic to Vermont and its history of farming.
Another beverage maker embracing the waste-not farming approach, and embracing the marriage of grape and apple, is Fable Farm Fermentory in Barnard. They’ve built their entire business around re-purposing.
Back in 2009, Fable Farm began foraging apples and making cider from what they found. Their experimentation with mead making began as a serendipitous re-use moment when, in 2011, a local apiary's barn caught fire and they had to sell their honey quickly. Fable Farm snatched up the honey and launched their first big batch of mead in 2015. They followed up the mead with starting their first grape wine vintage in 2016, which was released earlier this year. The grapes inside those bottles also represent re-use in their own way – they came from the unusual “Pick Your Own Wine Grape” experiment at Monro Hill, a vineyard planted on a farm ten years earlier as part of a winemaking experiment that hadn’t panned out (Monro Hill has since started wine production). Fable Farm also uses Lincoln Peak’s fresh grapes in making their wine.
Since 2015, Fable Farm Fermentory has put up a vintage of apple, honey, and grape wines each season -- with the vast majority being cider in a wine style made entirely from foraged fruit. Co-Founder Jon Piana says that Fable Farm does not produce much waste and that all of the cider they deem “unfit for the market” gets re-fermented into cider vinegar and barrel aged. Their apple pomace is utilized as animal feed for the pigs at Eastman Farm or composted. Their grape must is incorporated into cider.
Piana notes that the apple pomace works well for layering in a compost pile, back filling ground holes, and more recently, the team layered the pomace in garden beds to experiment with growing a nursery stock of seedling apple trees. “The next spring, thousands of baby apple trees sprouted up through the pomace; heralding an impressive array of genetic diversity,” Piana observes.
“I think it’s a good example of the Vermont Way, wherein the spirit of collaboration is alive and rich,” Piana says, reflecting on the collaborations he sees. “A lot of Vermonters are fundamentally resourceful, collaborative, and experimental. These attributes and more help Vermont cottage industries pioneer some really interesting products for sure. One business's waste can be another's missing ingredient for a novel creation.”
Just like generations before us, today’s beverage makers are putting a no waste attitude to work creating a true taste of Vermont.
Corey Burdick is a Vermont based writer who has been exploring her passion for food and wine for over a decade. You can find her work in Edible Green Mountains, Best of Burlington Magazine, Best of Central Vermont Magazine, BrewView, and The Other Paper.
(Grape Must, Apple Pomace, Fermentation Photos from Fable Farm Fermentory)