Beyond the Compost Pile
By Janet Eastman
Kit Doyle thinks teeny seeds can grow new green economies in Oregon.
He has already proven his case to farmers who took his suggestion to plant sunflowers in soil too wet for grapevines. Doyle then harvested the sunflower seeds to make alternative fuels.
He also has the attention of winery owners who now sell culinary ingredients made from grape seeds and skins they once tossed into fields.
Grapes, Doyle discovered, are more than just juice. After they are pressed to extract the new wine, the seeds can be separated and squeezed to make flavorful cooking oil. Then the skins can be milled into organic flour. This triple payoff is another one of his ideas to build profitable, eco-friendly partnerships with Oregon’s bountiful wine industry.
Doyle thinks cooperating with the earth can also revive areas hurt by the axed timber business. With his innovative ideas, the entrepreneur hopes to put unused resources — plant material, equipment, people — back to work.
He and his wife, Lisa, operate their Southern Oregon Seed Oils company out of a vacated lumberyard warehouse in Murphy, at the top of the Applegate Valley. There, time, money and backbreaking effort convert seed oil plants into healthy food, animal feed and clean-burning fuel.
The Doyles’ family business was construction and property development. But now they’re concentrating on products of the future. In the process, they’re drawing in a whole community. “People need us,” says Kit Doyle, “and we need them to fulfill these projects. Food, feed and fuel are necessary to keep a thriving, secure community.”
The idea to link forces with grape growers began in 2009 when Doyle was planting camelina, sunflower and naked seed pumpkin at Williamsburg Valley Ranch in the remote Williams Valley. He was out there in the cold and rain, tending to fields he could harvest and then transform the seeds into high-protein meal to feed chickens, cattle and sheep, and oil that could be used in cooking, skin-care products or running a truck or tractor.
Up to this point, Doyle had been producing biodiesel from restaurants’ used vegetable oil. Then he heard that the low gel-point properties of camelina seeds were being employed to fuel fighter jets and commercial airplanes. He was also curious about what he could do with winegrape byproducts.
Every day he was in the Williams Valley, he past by Plaisance Ranch, where Joe and Suzi Ginet raise organic cattle, grow grapes and make rich red wines. One day, he stopped to ask Joe Ginet for pomace, the seeds and skins left over after pressing. Doyle then went to work, learning what he could and building what equipment he needed to extract the oil.
Then, early last year, Doyle was invited to speak to Applegate Valley grape growers and winemakers. He made a pitch for seed oil plants. He explained that these plants need little or no irrigation, pesticides or commercial fertilizers, making them safe to grow near vineyards and watersheds.
Cal Schmidt, a lifelong farmer, liked the idea. He agreed to let Doyle plant 200,000 black-oil sunflowers across 20 acres last June. All summer and most of the fall, visitors to the Schmidt Family Vineyards’ tasting room in Grants Pass were welcomed by sun-yellow vistas. “People loved them,” Schmidt said. “They had more questions about the sunflowers than my wine.”
Dave Palmer of Jacksonville Vineyards and Fiasco Winery was interested in something else Doyle was promoting: converting pomace into food. In March 2010, Doyle picked up a heap of Palmer’s extended-fermentation pomace.
Around that time, Doyle was also building a tasting room in Gold Hill for the Garvin family’s Cliff Creek Cellars. Roy Garvin learned that Doyle came from a family of inventors — Doyle’s grandfather perfected “The Fluidmaster” toilet kit — and Doyle had inherited the designer gene. Garvin joined the pomace program, too.
Doyle plans to build a plant that will process all of the pomace generated in the Applegate Valley. And he hopes to take the model throughout the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, however, Doyle and his family do a lot of the work by hand.
In a two-month-long process, weather permitting, the Doyles sun dry and clean the pomace, which looks like purple corn flakes. Then Kit feeds the flaky heaps into an efficient contraption he made from salvaged logging machinery.
The material slowly moves down a tube that further dries and separates the skins and seeds. At one point, the oil is squeezed out and collected to make cold, expeller-pressed extra
virgin oil that retains a hint of its wine origin. Unlike most grapeseed oil manufacturers who use a chemical extraction progress, Doyle’s method is all natural.
Doyle hopes that dipping, salad and cooking oil made from grapes grown here will replace the imported grapeseed oil that chefs and home cooks love for its flavor and high flash point, and skincare specialist and spa workers use as a non-allergenic, aromatherapy base oil. Doyle says local production and consumption are part of his vision for a self-sustaining, viable region.
The remaining bits of pomace continue to the end of the drying tube, where it’s collected and brought to Butte Creek Mill. There, it is stone ground by waterwheel power and made into a nutritious flour supplement that is high on super-antioxidant oligomeric proanthocyanidins. It also adds a grape-nutty flavor to baked goods, while extending the shelf life of bread products by as much as one week, Doyle says.
Dave Palmer’s wife, Pamela, puts the flour made from their 2009 Zinfandel harvest into biscotti and other cookie dough, and serves it to their five grandchildren.
“It appears there are people who aren’t vinophiles but who appreciate the health properties of wine grapes,” says Dave Palmer, who sells the organic flour and oil at his Jacksonville tasting room.
After pressings to make the 2010 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Palmer supplied Doyle with 6,640 pounds of pomace that will produced 66 gallons of virgin grapeseed oil that the Palmers will bottle and cork themselves. They will also receive 200 bags of flour bearing their private label. As they did last year, they expect to sell out.
“We’re not pushing trinkets,” Palmer said. “We’re more interested in production from our land. This is a local byproduct, repurposed and manufactured in the greenish possible way, and people who come to hear about our wine get excited to hear about this, too.”
Other winery owners who are looking to find new ways to embrace sustainability, increase tasting room sales and tap into growing consumer appreciation for buying locally produced eatables are following Doyle’s work closely. They are finding that grapes, squeezed of their precious juice, still have value. And they can solve the dreaded pomace problem.
Doyle delivered a trailer to Ginet’s property in Williams and then hauled away tons of seeds and skins.
Ginet says he could have made grappa out of the pomace, but that would require a distillery and a new liquor license. He knows the pomace can be tasty — “My cattle would like to eat it, but I don’t feed it to them.” In the past, it has ended up being used as compost — but not in the vineyard.
Some growers worry that pomace may contain bugs or other foreign entities they don’t want introduced into the land, especially if the it is derived from grapes not grown specifically from that vineyard. Ginet doesn’t have to worry about that any more.
“Kit made it easy,” Ginet said. “It’s a relief that I don’t have to deal with it, and if he can get something good out of it, that’s wonderful.”
Janet Eastman writes about Southern Oregon wine for national publications and websites. Her work can be seen at www.janeteastman.com.