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Okanagan business turns winemaking waste into gourmet food

Tyson Still of Winecrush holding a tray of his company's food products made with leftovers from the Okanagan valley's winemaking process.
Tyson Still of Winecrush holding a tray of his company's food products made with leftovers from the Okanagan valley's winemaking process.

PENTICTON - Tyson Still says he’s bound by contract not to reveal the outcome of his segment on an episode of Dragons' Den before the show airs sometime this fall.

It’s hard to imagine the pitch for his Penticton-based business Winecrush not being successful as he continues to find markets for his unique products.

Winecrush began over two years ago when co-owner Bill Broddy was peddling through Summerland wine country and spied piles of leftover wine waste — pomace or lees — what remains of the grapes following fermentation.

He approached Tyson and the two began looking at ways to repurpose the waste material, along with Bill’s daughter Alexandra Broddy.

“We just started playing around about the end of November 2015," Still says. "We made a trip to the Vancouver Wine Show with some grape pomace-infused sourdough bread that we tested out to patrons. They all thought we were on to something."

Most of 2016 was spent researching and developing products buy infusing the lees — which contains leftover seeds, grape skin and other grape products — into cheese, meats and crackers.

They came up with a gamay goat cheese, a pinot gris turkey sausage, a Cabernet salami and a Pinot Chorizo sausage, in addition to wine crisp powder that can be used as a seasoning.

The market has responded well with demand escalating through 2017 and into this year. Tyson says things are “looking very good” with business ramping up in the coming weeks.

Winecrush developed stand-alone picnic stations last year they’ve distributed to many B.C. wineries. The stands come with small refrigerators containing Winecrush products. The meats, crackers and cheeses all come with a picnic basket and utensils for a fully contained meal.

“It provides lots of flexibility for the wineries, who don’t have to spend thousands on a kitchen,” he says.

The company’s products are also sold at Save on Foods and other gourmet markets, and the company recently launched into a contract with Edible Canada.

The three co-owners all come from different backgrounds, with a common passion for food. Bill was a former computer technician, while Tyson worked “up north” before becoming a sous chef prior to starting Winecrush. Alexandra was a nurse.

Still and Bill went to Toronto last April to make a pitch to the Dragons' Den TV show for the exposure, Tyson says.

“We weren’t going there to get rid of any of our business from B.C. We’ve worked too hard as a team to build this business,” he said, adding the pitch was to expand into Ontario and other locations. “We were pitching to build a franchise business, not necessarily just Ontario, but a franchising business, and keeping the B.C. business as a family-run business, the first Winecrush operation.”

The show is slated to air this fall. Still says even he doesn’t know exactly when the segment will air.

“They’ll tell us two weeks prior to it running. Winning would certainly be a bonus,” he says.

The pomace is sourced from various Okanagan wineries, and Still says the business will be switching to organically sourced product. He feels all the province’s wineries will eventually go that route.

As far as Tyson knows, the concept is totally unique.

“We’ve never seen anyone get to where we are with the salami, cheese and crackers. There’s wine powders all around the world, but we are strict varietals, we know exactly which varietal this powder is, and it’s dried to that standard. It’s a pure product coming from the backyard of B.C.,” he says.

Winecrush sources their cheese from Happy Days Dairy in Salmon Arm. Their meats are produced by Helmut Sausage Kitchen in Vernon, and the company’s salts, powders and crackers are produced in Penticton.

The company plans to launch a vegan line next year.

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