Santa Barbara, Calif.
-- While many grapegrowers have started selling their own varietal wines to add value to their harvests, one former grower in California has begun bottling and marketing varietal grape juice. Aris Janigian, from the third generation of a grapegrowing family in the Fresno area, is a co-founder of First Blush, a new line of non-alcoholic juices initially being sold through an exclusive agreement with Whole Foods markets.
First Blush consists of four products made 100% percent from winegrape varietals, sourced mostly from Lodi and the coastal counties, with the remainder from the Central Valley, Janigian said. The line consists of Cabernet juice, Merlot juice, Chardonnay juice, and rosé juice made from Zinfandel.
First Blush, at 16% or more natural sugar content, is flash-pasteurized for stability. The products come in 16-oz. bottles at about $4 per bottle retail. Whole Foods stocks them in the refrigerated section of its stores. Distribution includes 11 states so far, Janigian said.
Wines & Vines sampled the Cabernet and Chardonnay juices and found them true to varietal type, like the fresh-crushed and pressed must of those two grape varieties, but not as high in sugar. Consumers who mix in a little sparkling water can make a drier drink.
Janigian said more than 300,000 bottles have been produced so far. The company is based in Santa Barbara (firstblushjuice.com
The First Blush marketing message emphasizes the products' "100% natural" properties and the potential health benefits of resveratrol and other antioxidants in grape juice. Janigian, who is also a novelist (Bloodvine
, a fictional telling of the Janigian family's history as immigrants from Armenia) and has taught humanities at the college level, said he loves to drink wine, but abstains from alcohol for two months a year. "I like to drink grape juice during that time, but I wasn't happy with the quality of the grape juice I was getting."
The Janigian family is in the grape and juice shipping business as partners with M & R Packing of Lodi, which ships about 500,000 lugs and pails of grapes and juice to retailers for distribution to home winemakers around the country and in Canada. The step up from shipping grapes to shipping grape juice was a logical one, he said, though M & R is not involved in First Blush.
Janigian's business partner and co-founder of First Blush is Victoria Briggs.
First Blush juices use grape concentrate rather than fresh-pressed juice. Janigian said they experimented with free-run juice, but found it difficult to get the color, flavor and antioxidant extraction that they wanted. The process of making concentrate, however, breaks down the skins and pulp completely for better extraction, he said. First Blush uses a proprietary "essence recovery technology" to recover the aromatics that are lost in concentrating.