About three years ago, Andrew Cates and his dad, Chris, wandered through a Napa Valley vineyard and noticed that pickers had harvested all but about 5 percent of the winegrapes.
“We collected all the beautiful little clusters,” said Andrew Cates. They popped some of the dimpled fruits into their mouths.
Chris Cates, a slightly retired cardiologist from Atlanta who now lives in Florida, remarked on the sweetness of the winegrape raisins as well as the crunch of inner seeds. The two men rounded up $2 million in seed funding from family members and in January 2016 launched The Wine RayZyn Co., a Napa-based limited-liability company with Chris Cates as CEO and half a dozen members.
Sales this year run shy of $1 million. The company pushed for distribution and marketing channels that could propel the startup into big numbers if consumers fancy the product.
Because they contain seeds, wine RayZyns have more antioxidants per ounce than green tea, red wine and raw grapes. So co-founder Andrew Cates touts the product as a “superfood.” Antioxidant numbers are higher for dried winegrapes than fresh grapes, in part because much of the water is gone, reducing weight while retaining other ingredients. Regular seedless raisins have fewer antioxidants because they have no seeds.
Chris Cates, a cardiologist and medical-device entrepreneur, recommended red wine to patients for decades.
“A glass or two,” said son Andrew, “because of heart-healthy benefits of polyphenols.”
They are among the hundreds of chemical compounds that contribute to taste, aroma and color in wine.
“Wine in moderation can be good for you,” he said.
Scientists have observed a possible link between certain polyphenols, including one called resveratrol, and lowered blood pressure and reduced incidence of heart attacks in some people. Polyphenols in wine that act as antioxidants might also boost high-density lipoproteins, a beneficial form of cholesterol.
But alcohol in too much wine can damage the liver, hike blood pressure and contribute to cancer. So to Chris Cates, dried winegrapes that have no alcohol appeared to offer good aspects of wine without the bad. (Wine can also be purchased without alcohol.)
TASTE LIKE CURRANTS
Rayzyn snacks taste a bit like currants — made from black Corinth grapes — but with prominent seeds. The flavor is good though not revolutionary, and the seeds like to lodge between teeth.
Will the Cates family business upend the dried-fruit marketplace or wrinkle noses at Goliath Sun-Maid Growers of California? The Sun-Maid cooperative started near Fresno in 1912 and has some 850 family-farm members. It sells about 200 million pounds of raisins and other dried fruits a year and rakes in estimated revenue of $350 million.
Web customers searching for “rayzyns” online might choke a bit on the company’s naming scheme. Folks spell raisins with “rai” instead of “ray,” and zinfandel grapes are colloquially dubbed “zin” and not “zyn.” The Cates don’t yet make Rayzyn selections from zinfandel grapes. They dry cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay grapes, and have other varietals in sight.
The company’s tongue-tangling product names go further. RayZyn coats CabernayZyn in dark chocolate. ChardonayZyn has just one “N” in its middle, while “chardonnay” has a pair. MerlayZyn is a bird of another feather from “merlot,” a diminutive of “merle,” French for blackbird — singing in the dead of night or perched on merlot vines.