The Lester crew is excited about beginning the yearly harvest- and all that this encompasses. Last weekend, some of our members happened to time it right to experience our first press. They were most excited, I think, to see the cake and asked many questions about what we did with this amazing bi-product. After the grapes are squeezed, about 20 percent of the grape remains in the form of grape skins, seeds and stems. This is called a “cake” or “pomace.”
When it comes to the leftover pomace, if it’s a large winery with a whole lot of pomace, there are some commercial ventures that recycle those solids. Pomace can be processed into all kinds of things: cream of tartar, distilled into spirits like grappa, ground into powdered tannin extract, used as food coloring or turned into animal feed. Grape seeds can even be separated and pressed into grape seed oil.
Elissa and I once even tried using some of the cake on our faces as an exfoliant- it only took a couple of days for the purple color to leave our skin……
Food scientists have realized that pomace contains a lot of healthy stuff — antioxidants, fiber and chemicals that help moderate blood sugar and create a feeling of fullness, to name a few — that can be used to make other foods healthier. Pomace has been used as an ingredient in bread, cereal, pasta, cheese, ice cream and even has been added to meat and seafood.
So, what do we do with our leftover cakes?
Gardening with Pomace
Incorporating compost into the garden soil improves the soil structure, boosts positive microbiological activity, increases soil nitrogen, and provides minerals and other micronutrients to the plants. It can improve both soil drainage and its water holding capacity, meaning that you’ll have to water less and that your plants won’t get waterlogged when you do. Compost can also be used as a mulch to assist in weed control — laying down one or two inches of compost can completely stop weeds in their tracks, something that all gardeners can agree would be a good thing.
This proposition can be a bit tricky, though. You should always start a compost pile well away from the house or home winery as it will attract fruit flies as it ferments and decomposes. Like any other compost pile, you can add other organic elements; things like lawn clippings, kitchen vegetable waste and straw to help raise the pH of the pile and serve as bulking agents. Though eggshells are fine for compost piles, it’s not a good idea to add meat scraps or whole eggs- as protein has a hard time breaking down in the compost pile.
Which brings us to the key concept in composting: decomposition. In order for the nutrients and nitrogen to become available to your soil and plants, the organic matter in the compost needs to be broken down by heat, microbes, oxygen and time. Experts suggest using a pitchfork to completely turn over your compost pile every six to twelve days to keep it from getting smelly and from breeding undesirable microorganisms. Monitor the internal temperature as keeping the pile between 131–150 °F for at least 15 days to kill off weed seeds and harmful pathogens. If all goes according to plan, you should have good compost in four to six months.
If you are interested in using some of our cake, Let us know and we will be sure to save some for you!