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Lifting spirits: Bill would allow winemakers to distill from grape leftovers

Wine grapes ripen at the Page Springs Cellars and Vineyard in Cornville. Photo by Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente
PHOENIX - After his Cornville winery squeezes the last drop from its grape harvest, Arizona law requires Eric Glomski to throw away the hundreds of pounds of skin, pulp, seeds and stems left behind.

Many wineries beyond Arizona are allowed to distill this collection of byproducts, known as fruit pomace, into spirits such as brandy, cognac, cider and grappa, an Italian brandy. Adding those products to its line would be a boon to Page Springs Cellars' business, said Glomski, the winery's founder and director of winemaking.

"As an artisan and businessman, I see grappas being made around the planet that are fine, amazing drinks," he said. "We should be able to make that too."

Enter legislation that would offer wineries like Glomski's licenses to distill alcoholic beverages from wine byproducts.

"Sometimes, pomace just ends up in landfills, and we want to provide an option to our growers and wine industry in Arizona and keep it out of our landfills," said Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, author of HB 2661.

HB 2661 passed through the House Commerce Committee on Feb. 19 and was heading to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

The Arizona Wine Growers Association was among organizations registering support for the bill.

Barton said Arizona law on the subject stems from anti-alcohol legislation that swept the U.S. after the end of Prohibition in the 1930s. Arizona created a three-tier control system separating producers, distributors and retailers of alcoholic beverages to discourage monopolies.

Small wineries popped up in Arizona after a 2006 law allowed farm wineries to sell wine in-person through their tasting rooms. They are licensed to sell wine to retailers and directly to consumers as long they don't produce more than 20,000 gallons annually.

Without a producer's license, however, wineries can't legally distill spirituous liquor other than wine, to Glomski's chagrin.

"Distilling fruit pomace will add value to our business and make more sense from an economic and artistic perspective, Glomski said. "It discourages waste and is simply a more efficient business model."

If HB 2661 becomes law, wineries could produce alcoholic beverages such as beer, brandy and grappa and sell them on their grounds.

To Glomski, the change would make Arizona more attractive to wine entrepreneurs.

"Arizona is my home, and winemaking, grappa-making, brandy-making is an art that is an expression of home," he said. "Arizona wine tastes like Arizona wine, and I wanted to express the place that I call home."

Barton said researchers are investigating the nutritional and antibacterial properties of the seeds in grape pomace - another reason, she said, to encourage Arizona winemakers to make use of it.

"If universities can jump on board with research, this is only one more great thing we can bring to Arizona," she said.

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