How CrushDynamics upcycles wine waste into a nutritious ingredient

CrushDynamics’ company story starts with a bike ride and a bear. 

In 2016, founder and President Bill Broddy was biking near a winery and saw a bear chowing down on pomace — the grape seeds and skins discarded in the winemaking process. Broddy watched the bear, not out of fear, but out of curiousity, said CEO Kirk Moir.

Later, Broddy asked Gary Strachan, a Canadian wine advocate and consultant who is now CrushDynamics’ lead scientist, why the bear was eating the discarded material. Strachan responded that the pomace is extremely nutritious, and the bear was likely loading up on quality food before beginning its hibernation.

Broddy realized that maybe there could be another way to use the pomace. It has great nutritional benefits, and the winemaking industry produces millions of tons of it a year. Pomace is usually discarded, turned into fertilizer, or sometimes sold to energy companies to use for renewable energy.

CrushDynamics, formerly known as Winecrush Technologies, is turning pomace into a protein ingredient. The company has a patent-pending fermentation-based process that not only removes the natural bitterness of the pomace — what’s known as the tannins, which give a slightly bitter flavor to red wines — but also reduces the production cost by 90%, Moir said. The resulting ingredient can provide flavor enhancement, bitter blocking, color, salt reduction and shelf life extension. And it’s rich in polyphenols, which contain antioxidants, help maintain healthy blood sugar, and contribute to circulatory, cardiac and immune health.

“This has global implications,” Moir said. “…We’re just trying to find good homes for 15 million metric tons of winemaking derivatives on a global basis every year. We have a fairly big, big, hairy, audacious goal.”

CrushDynamics is moving closer to being able to accomplish that goal. The company closed a $3.6 million seed round of funding in April, with investors including the Western Universities Technology Innovation Fund, Women’s Equity Lab, Lumia Capital, Australia’s AgFood Opportunities Fund and Turnham Green Capital. Moir said that these funds will be used to work on making the company’s process — which it has so far implemented in a single winemaking region in Canada’s Okanagan Valley — into something that can be taken to other areas and put to use.

Making wine waste palatable

When CrushDynamics began, Moir said it had the goal of valorizing the discarded wine pomace. And it started by doing what was the most obvious thing: drying the pomace and making it into a protein powder.

The natural bitterness of the pomace, however, got in the way of success. Moir said that the bitterness is a part of the pomace, and the tannins produced by the wine skins and stems have a significant purpose for winemaking. After the company explored different technological processes to remove the bitterness, Strachan developed the fermentation-based process. Moir called it a “biotransformation,” and said it is both extremely successful in removing the bitter taste and a more cost-effective way to make an ingredient. And, he said, the process also makes the end product more nutritious.

“We’re just trying to find good homes for 15 million metric tons of winemaking derivatives on a global basis every year. We have a fairly big, big, hairy, audacious goal.”

Kirk Moir

CEO, CrushDynamics

CrushDynamics currently has two ingredient lines: Ruby Purée and Gold Purée. The difference is in the color of the ingredient and the blend of grape varieties, Moir said. The single ingredient can do many things: Amp up nutrition, act as a natural preservative, or increase umami flavor. Much like different blends of grapes are used to make different varieties of wine, Moir said the same is true for CrushDynamics’ purees. These blends can highlight more desired functions for different products. There can also be custom changes made in the fermentation process to get a different sort of end product.

“We see those as incredibly useful levers to come up with an ever-growing family of products,” Moir said.

The process also may not be limited to winemaking waste. Moir said it may also work for waste from other naturally bitter and high-tannin, plant-based waste, like that from cranberries.