Califonia Bountiful

Grapeseed oil may be California's next culinary gem

Largely a by-product of the winemaking process, this emerging product could be a literal trash-into-treasure success story.

Farmers and chefs are often searching for the next big thing - a product that gives them an edge in their fiercely competitive businesses. If Valentin Humer fulfills his long quest, grapeseed oil will be that key ingredient, providing a sizeable new business in California.

More than 15 years ago, Humer traded his job as chef and hotelier in Austria to make gourmet grapeseed oil through his Napa-based company, Food & Vine Inc.

Salute Santé, Italian and French for "To your health," is currently sold at hundreds of gourmet retailers and health food markets including Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, Cost Plus World Market, Whole Foods and Wild Oats.

More than 500 finer restaurants across the country feature it, including Julia's Kitchen at COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, in Napa.

"It's a workhorse in our kitchen," said executive chef Jeff Mosher, who uses the oil for sautéing, marinades and vinaigrettes. "It's one of those things that makes everything work together. It's also a very healthy, all-natural product."

Chefs and customers rave about the neutral taste of grapeseed oil, which has an extremely high smoke point - the temperature in which oil begins to break down. It has heart-healthy components that researchers say may raise a person's good cholesterol while lowering unfavorable cholesterol levels.

Food & Vine makes its oil from the grapeseeds of fruit grown and pressed in Italy, although Humer said he hoped to partner with California grape growers in the coming years.

Grapeseeds are largely a by-product of the winemaking process, so this emerging product could be a literal trash-into-treasure success story.

It takes 1 ton of grapes to make a 33-ounce bottle of grapeseed oil. With about 1 million acres of grapevines in California, Humer said there are enough grapeseeds in the state to make 12 million bottles of oil each year.

"What a great thing to get one more use out of them," said Daryl Sattui, Napa Valley vintner and owner of V. Sattui winery. "To be able to produce it here just makes so much more sense than having to bring it 6,000 miles. I think the potential for grapeseed oil is tremendous."

Humer not only delivers his oil to restaurants, he picks up their used oil and uses it to power his company truck and Mercedes. He said it only took simple changes to his diesel engine to do the trick.

"I haven't seen a gas station for over two years," he said. "It's a pretty simple way to save lots of money."

The combination of taste, nutrition and their environmentally friendly nature leaves Humer optimistic about the future of his products. Food & Vine and Salute Santé offer a rare if not unique complete ecological cycle of reuse and recycling and are certified green by Co-op America Business Network.

"I'm very fortunate to be part of creating history with an ingredient that has a lot going for it," Humer said. "I see grapeseed oil today where olive oil was about 10 to 15 years ago, which was a fairly fast growing market. Now, it's a $600 million a year industry."

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