Launched in 2020, WellVine uses Chardonnay byproduct (consisting of seeds, stems, and skins obtained after pressing fruit) to develop new ingredients for health and wellness under the masthead of parent company Sonomaceuticals.
Sonomaceuticals was founded in 2009 by prominent figures in the U.S. wine industry, Barbara Banke and Peggy Furth, as they initially sought to find a purpose for the surplus fruit from wine production at their wine estate Sonoma County, in California.
But what was originally envisioned as a culinary addition to the winery took an unexpected turn when safety testing revealed the health-enhancing properties of Chardonnay grapes.
And the business partners realised that there was an opportunity in the supplement space.
Scott Forsberg, chief operating officer at WholeVine Products explains that early research conducted with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the University of Tennessee, Iowa State University, and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) revealed that chardonnay consistently came top in all kinds of tests, including measures of gut health.
In 2019, the company began to delve into studying oligosaccharides, a source of prebiotic fibre, and by 2020-2021, Dr. Daniella Barilla, a key researcher from UC Davis, uncovered Chardonnay oligosaccharides’s unique profile diversity.
Forsberg explains: “When she first started working with our material, it came as a surprise to everyone, but she said there were a lot of oligosaccharides in there that were quite similar to those found in mother's milk.
“And more importantly, mother's milk, widely regarded as one of the best sources of oligosaccharides there is, has somewhere in the neighbourhood of maybe eight different building blocks of oligosaccharides, where Chardonnay was found to have 11.
“It actually has a more diverse oligosaccharide profile than even mother's milk itself.”
Forsberg explains that while there are a lot of companies working with other materials, according to this research conducted by Dr. Barilla, Sonomaceuticals has “the most diverse oligosaccharide source that she's found in in the plant kingdom”.
The company has developed a proprietary process to dry and mill the grape marc into a “superfood” packed with beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, fibre, and natural sweetness, Forsberg explains.
As well as oligosaccharides, the marc is high in polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins including epicatechins and proanthocyanidins.
As Forsberg explains: “Sonomaceuticals has demonstrated the viability of this new model by launching a line of branded chocolate products named Vine to Bar.
“This product incorporates WellVine Coastal Chardonnay Marc to deliver superior consumer sensory performance, environmental sustainability benefits derived from upcycling, and consumer health benefits derived from the increased amounts of gut-healthy fibre and cardiovascular-healthy flavanols uniquely enabled by the inclusion of this ingredient.”
Trends and differentiation
Interest in upcylced products in the industry is certainly gaining more attention, Forsberg explains, but he notes that not all companies out there are utilising byproducts as they could.
“We're seeing significantly increased interest in utilising waste streams, that commonly include a lot of fibre.
“When you're processing foods for other uses, fibre is often excluded, particularly if you're doing any kind of juicing, and that means that there are a lot of materials, not just Chardonnay, that exist out there, which are rich in substrates for the development of these kinds of products.
“But there are a couple of things I think that makes us unique: We use everything that comes out of the wine press that's edible.
“So obviously we clean it up a little bit, but we utilise everything and so we don't create another waste stream.”
He explains that while other companies are working on similar products, they take the fibre, often treat it enzymatically, or use other further processing techniques, which continues to create other waste streams because they're only utilising part of the biomass.
Sonomaceuticals, on the other hand, use 100% of the biomass.