Distilling by-product gets makeover to become new product

There’s a saying that it takes a lot of beer to make wine.

For producer A Hillier Vineyard Inc., in Prince Edward County, it takes a lot of their Levantine spirit, arak, to make wine, too.

Unfortunately, it’s not readily drinkable tipple that comes from the process. So, the question of how to turn 1,200 litres of wine leftover every week – from distilling arak using grapes grown at A Hillier Vineyard – into something quaffable is one question the vineyard’s father-son ownership team of Milad and Akram Zakhia has been trying to answer.

“We had that leftover wine from distillation, and we were just wasting it,” Akram says. “Because of the aroma lost during the process, we can’t sell it. We were throwing away so much juice that one day my dad said, ‘What if we got someone professional to help us out?’”

They did. They turned to Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. Since April 2021, a team of college researchers has been working to transform the low-alcohol distilling by-product into a unique beverage that would give A Hillier Vineyard a niche similar to what it has carved out with its arak, which is sold on its own as well, under the label Kasak.

“It’s another potential market of people who want to drink wine but prefer low alcohol or no alcohol,” Akram notes. “It’s a shame to waste it.”

The innovation centre team came up with a way to immediately treat the distilled wine to prevent microbial growth using equipment A Hillier Vineyard already has in its production facility. In addition, researchers developed a masking agent to replace the lost aroma. They also created different flavours, including orange anise, caramel apple and mint cardamom, to give the wine a new feel.

The projects are funded by GreenCentre’s CONNECT program, which helps small- and medium-sized enterprises bring new products and services to market, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Innovation Enhancement grant.

“They have the expertise and scientific background and it’s very helpful. It’s good to have institutions like Niagara College for these reasons.” – Akram Zakhia, A Hillier Vineyard

A Hillier Vineyard recently received samples of the flavoured wine for feedback and discussion of different flavours. Overall, the beverage with additional flavours is a concept that Akram says they hadn’t thought of but are keen to continue refining and test with consumers to determine marketability.

“We are very open-minded and enthusiastic about the possibilities,” he says. “We are willing to explore these alternative flavours with consumers and listen to their feedback so we can satisfy the market.”

Mostly, they’re grateful to have an experienced and well-connected team of researchers working to find a solution for all that residual wine.

“They have the expertise and scientific background and it’s very helpful,” Akram says. “It’s good to have institutions like Niagara College for these reasons.”

That confidence has led to another project between A Hillier Vineyard and Niagara College. They are currently working to develop a new brandy called Inanna with a Brazilian partner.

“They are always a great help,” Akram says. “We will always consider Niagara College as a good partner in our industry, as we can benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience. If we have new ideas or need assistance, we would definitely consider working with them again.”