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Organic Food Waste in Brooklyn Part 3: Wine

Wineries? Pfft, not in my city! But they are more common than you think. They're lurking around every corner, and they produce FOOD WASTE!

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi
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This probably won't come as a surprise to a lot of you, but it certainly did to me: There are wineries! In the city! I didn't know that. I thought that all wineries are located on vineyards in remote places like the Finger Lakes region or Long Island, or Martha Stewart's backyard. However, over the last month, I've come to realize that there are 14 wineries in New York City, out of which 8 are located in Brooklyn. I decided to visit one of them to learn more about their manufacturing process and waste disposal process. I called Red Hook winery located in, you guessed it, Red Hook (seriously, why the overtly obvious nomenclature?). They invited me over for a tour of the winery, followed by a one-on-one conversation in their tasting room. I had a blast!

The temperature-controlled barrel room

The Red Hook Winery began in concept in July 2008 and began crushing grapes two months later. They owner, a Brooklyn native, convinced two of his wine-maker friends to get on board. The goal was to work with 15 different New York vineyards and make every drop of wine right here in Brooklyn. They are a small, handcrafted operation making fewer than 2000 cases a year. They split each batch of grapes equally for each winemaker to experiment with. This allows them to create unique expressions of these individual vineyard sites. Most of their grapes from Long Island, and a few from Long Island. I spoke to Dorian, one of the assistant wine makers, who has been in the business since 2008. After the tour where he explained the whole manufacturing process, we had a conversation about how they deal with waste.

Me: Thanks for the tour Dorian, I learnt a lot. I have some questions about what happens after the process. What happens to the waste?

Dorian: The primary waste we create is called Pomace. Many people think that it's only grape skin. In reality, it's a mixture of skin, seeds, and stems.

Me: Seeds I get, but stems too? Don't you remover it in the de-stemmer?

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Dorian: Actually, the de-stemmer only separates the grapes from the bunches. The grapes arrive in a truck, and they are loaded on a conveyor belt. At this point, they're straight off the vine. After inspection, the grapes are washed and separated. Most of the stems are removed, but some remain on the grapes.

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Me: Ok, I got it. And then they're crushed?

Dorian: Depends. White grapes are crushed in a hydraulic press. The juice is then fermented in stainless steel vats before barreling. Red wine is different. We ferment the whole grapes until they turn mushy. For a few days, they're pulped in the vats. Finally, the residue is skimmed off, the wine is filtered, and then barreled.

Me: Interesting. Why the difference?

Dorian: Taste and color. Red wine gets its color from the skin. All grape juice is almost colorless. The skin dyes the wine red.

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Me: I didn't know that. So what happens to the Pomace? Do you store it separately?

Dorian: No, they all go to the same place. We have a large bin in the back. The stems from the de-stemmer go there too.

Me: And then what happens to it?

Dorian: When we used to have a winery upstate, we would give it to a farmer who used it for cattle feed. But now, in the city, there's nothing that can be done with it. We just dispose it.

Me: Private Carter?

Dorian: Yeah, and it's expensive.

Me: So how much pomace do you produce?

Dorian: A few tons. I'm not sure.

Me: Can we estimate it?

Dorian: I guess. We make 2000 cases of wine each year.

Me: And each case is..

Dorian: 12 bottles. And I know that for each bottle of wine, we need about 2.5 pounds of grapes.

Me: So that's 60,000 pounds of grapes.

Dorian: Yeah, and if you google it, you'll see that each unit of grapes turns into 20% of pomace.

Me: So in metric, that's about 6 tons of pomace.

Dorian: Yeah.

Me: 6 tons a year.

Dorian: Not really in a year. Only after the harvest. So I'd say in about two months between September and November.

Me: Ahh, so you don't have any pomace with you now?

Dorian: No, not right now, you'll have to come by in October.

Me: And if I do, can I have some? I'm serious.

Dorian: You can take it all if you like. Saves us money.

Me: Any idea what can be done with it?

Dorian: You can make Grappa out of it. Actually, we tried that for a while, but then we decided that it was too much of a hassle to make both wine and grappa and decided to narrow our focus.

Me: I'll try to do that.

Dorian: And we're an extremely small micro winery. Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg has a production of 30,000 cases each year. And even they are considered a small winery.


I'll go back in October so collect some of the pomace and see what applications I can discover. One of the other posts by Jessica talks about different uses for pomace. I'll try to see if I can turn it into flour. Also, paper shouldn't be that hard to do at home, so I'll give that a try too.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Even a small winery produces 90 tons of waste in 60 days. Pomace, the leftover by product, has a lot of value for farmers and manufacturing companies. Unfortunately, being in urban locations means that they cannot efficiently transport it. Thus, it is dumped into landfills at the wineries' expense. What applications can make it useable locally? Something more efficient than just composting?

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm working with a group of NYU students and alumni who are fascinated with industrial symbiosis: turning the byproduct of one industry into the raw material of another.

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Photo of Vincenzo Marot Scudiero

Hi Ashwin, great research and really helpful insight. I just read the article and I'm kind of guessing here, but I think that if you could get grappa from the pomace you could also get high ethanol concentrated products, in other terms: fuel. So imagine the outcome of this if you can produce energy from the waste of a winery...

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