Perspectives Online

More Fruit from the Vine. MuscadinePlus nutritional supplement means agribusiness opportunity for Duplin County. By Natalie Hampton

Bob Dalton (left), Nutragon marketing director Lynn Davis and Duplin County Extension Director Ed Emory oversee the process as grape hulls come out of a dryer to be ground to powder.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

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Bob Dalton and his business partners growing grapes in the Yadkin Valley noticed that while Japanese beetles were devouring leaves on the Chardonnay vines, they had not touched wild muscadine vines growing nearby.

To find out why, Dalton had the muscadine grapes analyzed and learned that the fruit was very high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant, and other phytochemicals. Using knowledge he gained blending tobacco for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. cigarettes, Dalton decided to try creating an antioxidant supplement from muscadine hulls and seeds provided by the winemaking industry.

His company, Nutragon LLC, turns waste hulls, or skins, from muscadine wineries into an antioxidant nutritional supplement. In a Duplin County industrial building, the company produces Muscadine-Plus, which already has developed a loyal client following through Internet sales.

Bob Dalton, co-founder of Nutragon LLC, displays his product, an antioxidant nutritional supplement produced from muscadine grape hulls.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Resveratrol was credited recently as a possible explanation for the "French Paradox" - the low incidence of heart disease among the French people, who eat a relatively high-fat diet. The French get their resveratrol doses from red wine, but muscadines have much more of the chemical, according to Lynn Davis, marketing director for Nutragon LLC.

Ed Emory, director of North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Duplin County, sees the new product as an opportunity for the county's agribusiness industries. He has worked with Nutragon LLC to bring the resources of Duplin County and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to help this business.

"We recognize that as a new agribusiness, we need them to be successful so our farmers can use them as an outlet in this community," he said.

Extension has helped make the community in Duplin County aware of this new enterprise, Emory said. In addition, agents are helping farmers who want to grow muscadines get started and helping them understand the return they can expect on an investment in growing muscadines.

Other potentially useful wine production byproducts are grape seeds and the rice hulls used to separate them in winemaking, which could be ground to make a flour for dietetic baked goods.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Extension also has helped this new business connect with the College. Dean Johnny Wynne has visited several times, and Extension is hiring a professional to work with the muscadine industry. Based in Duplin County's Extension office, the person will be part of the College viticulture team and will work primarily in the field with growers.

Economists Blake Brown and Charles Safley have helped provide growers with economic information on muscadines. Biological and Agricultural Engineering has been involved in the manufacturing process, and there is a clear role for Food Science as the business moves forward.

When Dalton learned of the strong antioxidant properties of muscadines, he began sampling vines to see if all the state's muscadines had similar properties. He found similar chemical makeup in muscadines growing from about mid-state to the coast. "We think it's the soil and environmental conditions that account for the high levels of resveratrol," Dalton said.

Dalton decided to begin manufacturing the powder on a small scale in December 2004. Using equipment purchased in Wilson, he equipped an industrial building in Duplin County and began drying hulls and grinding them into powder. The powder is encapsulated and packaged at a different site. By the end of March, Nutragon had shipped its first products.

The success of the endeavor has convinced Dalton to expand his facility. He is also looking at other health products that could be created from byproducts of muscadine wine production. One such product is a flour made from muscadine seeds and rice hulls, used to separate the seeds in winemaking. Dalton believes the flour could be used in dietetic baked goods.

Nutragon would like to conduct trials to find out the benefits of taking the muscadine powder. Anecdotal evidence provided by customers suggests that it can lower cholesterol and ease joint pain and arthritis.

Making the muscadine powder is an environmentally friendly industry because it utilizes byproducts from winemaking that would otherwise be discarded, Davis said. In addition, vineyards are not tilled, require limited fertilizer and pesticides, and require less irrigation.

Davis says this new industry will create new demand for muscadines growers. One acre of muscadines will provide powder for 150 people for one year. Juice from the muscadines can be used by the wine industry or funneled as fruit juice into the state's school lunch program.

"We are very excited about Nutragon," Emory said. "We want to do everything we can to keep them in eastern North Carolina."

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