HECTOR — A steak being rubbed with this dark, powdery substance is transformed. A brownie mix wouldn’t be complete without a dash of the dark stuff. No protein shake will ever be the same.
So says the only local producer of a groundbreaking product.
While Schuyler County resident Hilary Niver-Johnson is not the first to make wine flour, she is one of only five companies doing it — and her Sustainable Viticulture Systems is the first to be doing so on the East Coast.
Niver-Johnson’s story begins after she graduated from SUNY ESF with a degree in environmental science. She started doing research that measured the energy in vineyards and wineries — and discovered the incredible amount of waste involved with winemaking.
She turned to grapeseed oil, but soon realized it used roughly 3 percent of the pomace, which is the solid remains of the grapes after they’re pressed. She decided to look into other ways to use the pomace.
Grapeseed flour and wine flour took care of the other 97 percent.
“It was hard work starting this,” said Niver-Johnson, noting the flour-making process is laborious. “The seeds and the skins must be separated and then dried using solar thermal technologies. From there the seeds are cold-pressed and turned into flour.”
Unlike traditional white flour, wine flour is high in antioxidants and fiber, providing added nutrition to any recipe. The recent spike in gluten-intolerant people and the health movement in general makes gluten-free wine flour that much more attractive — “everything from steak rubs, thickening soup, adding to pasta,” she said.
Niver-Johnson cautioned that wine flour is meant to supplement recipes, not serve as a wholesale substitute for any ingredient, including regular flour.
“If you’re baking, you add a couple of tablespoons per cup of flour,” Niver-Johnson advised.
Wine flour is sold in different varieties, Niver-Johnson said. She has riesling and cabernet sauvignon right now, and will be launching six more in the coming months.
In order to sustain her 3-year-old business, Niver-Johnson has relied on private donors and bank funding. However, she is encouraged by recent experiences: Niver-Johnson attended Seneca Lake Wine and Food 2015 in Watkins Glen May 30-31 and sold all of her baked goods and all of the wine flour she brought.
In about a month, Niver-Johnson will begin selling her product wholesale at flxgrapeflour.com.