Through its ongoing research and growing product offerings, WellVine aims to become the world’s premier source of plant-based nutrition and illustrate how upcycling can not only reduce food waste but demonstrate the highest and best use of a remarkable global food source.
To say wine is big business would be an understatement: Dozens of different varietals with unique characteristics and flavors are grown and enjoyed on nearly every continent — from the cool, scenic vineyards of France to the hot, diverse landscapes of California — and an estimated 234 million hectoliters (1 hectolitre = 100 liters) of wine was consumed in 2020. Unfortunately, this mega-industry is rife with waste: To make one bottle of wine, approximately 1,200 grapes are crushed, leaving behind 12 million tonnes of grape waste — also known as pomace or grape marc — as byproduct each year.
Grape waste can be detrimental to the environment if not properly disposed of. In landfill, it releases large amounts of CO2 during decomposition and is also known to contaminate surrounding soil and water with pesticide residue. Many wineries try to utliize grape waste as fertilizer or recycle it as animal feed; however, due to the quantity of grape waste produced by the wine industry, companies and wineries are seeking alternative ways to dispose of it.
Pioneering a path to closing this wasteful loop and create a circular model for wine production, WellVine has developed a way to upcycle Chardonnay grape waste — repurposing it into a nutrient-dense superfood product that can be used in both foods and dietary supplements.
“About a decade ago, we recognized that freshly harvested, pressed wine grapes are an underutilized asset in the winemaking business; and we began the journey to discover how we might think about them differently,” Peggy Furth, co-founder of Chalk Hill Wines and WellVine, told Sustainable Brands™.
After 10 years of experimentation and research, WellVine now transforms Chardonnay grape waste into WellVine Chardonnay Marc — an alcohol-free superfood that contains high levels of flavonoids, antioxidants and oligosaccharides, all of which feed and promote healthy bacteria in the gut.
“We always knew that Chardonnay could be part of a healthy, vibrant lifestyle. However, it wasn’t until we started researching the composition and the physiological effects of Chardonnay Marc in detail that we began to realize just how powerful it was,” Furth explains.
Transforming used Chardonnay grapes into Chardonnay Marc whilst retaining the health and nutritional benefits is not an easy process. WellVine has pioneered a unique and novel way of upcycling agricultural waste and reintegrating it back into our diets — promoting gut and cardiovascular health and normal blood sugar levels.
“Capturing the grapes right out of the press while they are fresh, stabilizing and then processing them in a way that preserves both maximum nutritive and sensory value, or flavor, required substantial innovation and investment,” Furth says. “Initially, we tested and evaluated eight different wine grape varieties — including both red and white grapes — for health effects, taste, and aroma. We chose Chardonnay grapes because they consistently showed the most potent health results, as well as the best sensory characteristics.”
WellVine is the first and only company to make whole-grape products from Chardonnay wine grapes at scale. Its WellVine Chardonnay Marc is now featured in a premium consumer product, Vine to Bar chocolates — ethically produced right down to the chocolate.
“Our chocolate is sourced and certified under Cocoa Horizons — an impact-driven program that not only ensures sustainability but also drives meaningful change in cocoa-farming communities,” Furth says.
Through an exclusive partnership with Jackson Family Wines (WellVine co-founder Barbara Banke co-founded Jackson Family Wines with late husband, Jess Jackson) WellVine processes and repurposes a few hundred thousand pounds of grape waste per year. The company is hoping to upcycle even more grape waste as it develops other products and expands into additional markets.
“We are actively looking into several other foods, consumer products, and dietary supplements — both independently and with partners,” Furth explains. “In fact, later this year, consumers will be able to enjoy a powdered mix of WellVine Chardonnay Marc and high-flavonol cacao for use in smoothies, juice or coffee.”
Through its research and product offerings, WellVine is aiming to become the world’s premier source of plant-based nutrition and a singular example of how upcycling can not only reduce food waste but demonstrate the highest and best use of a remarkable global food source. The company has partnered with USDA and UC Davis food scientists to better understand the bioactive compounds unique to Chardonnay Marc; and they are planning to host annual symposiums to further the science surrounding grape marc.
“WellVine is already the world’s leading expert in Chardonnay grape composition and use. As our Vine to Bar chocolates demonstrate, WellVine Chardonnay Marc can stand with the best of foods that are both good for you and good to eat,” Furth says.