An Okanagan entrepreneur who took the pairing of red wine and a good steak to the next level hopes to decant her wine-fed beef into the Vancouver marketplace this fall.
“It’s really quite good,” said Janice Ravndahl, who owns West Kelowna’s Sezmu Meats with her brother Darrel Timm. “It tenderizes the meat. Even if you overcook it, which sometimes I tend to do, it’ll still maintain that nice tender beef.”
Each of their Angus cows is fed a litre of red wine a day for the last 90 days before slaughter.
“It’s slightly sweet. I’ve had people call it a little apple flavoured. I don’t know if I would describe it as apple.”
Also, the meat smells fresh and is “very, very red,” she noted.
She got the idea for wine-fed cattle a year and a half ago while watching celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay feed beer to pigs on his television series The F-Word.
Ravndahl, who grew up on a beef farm in Saskatchewan, looked out at the vineyard-covered slopes of the Okanagan Valley and made a different connection. Sezmu Meats was born.
“We’ve had hundreds of animals drinking wine so far and we’ve never had any problem,” Ravndahl said. “The animals become more docile. They’re easier to handle, which is great as a producer. Animals that are more relaxed taste better. That’s a goal when you are producing beef. You want them to be calm.
In Japan, Waygu cows (Kobe beef) are often fed beer. But Ravndahl said she’s found only one other company — in Australia — that feeds red wine to cattle.
Sezmu Meats is sold locally in the Okanagan and is carried at a small number of local restaurants, including Quail’s Gate and Mission Hill wineries.
Red wine, however, is not on the list of cattle feed approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Ravndahl said she has been working with the CFIA to get wine listed as an approved feed. The CFIA could not be reached for comment.
“When I first started doing this, I looked at the CIFA list and every ingredient that is in wine is already on the list, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Bill Freding, who owns the Oliver feedlot where the cattle will be finished, said not having red wine on the CFIA-approved list should not be an issue.
“As long as I’m feeding my own cattle with (wine) there is nothing they can stop me from doing. If I was selling the feed, that’s something else.”
He’s also hoping to get permission from the Liquor Distribution Branch to purchase wine directly from wineries for non-beverage use and to avoid the heavy liquor taxes.
John Church, the research chair in cattle-industry sustainability at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, has also taken an interest in Ravndahl’s wine-fed cattle.
“Wine has a few chemicals in it, and we want to see how it impacts the final product,” Church said.
Specifically, he wants to study how tannins in red wine affect methane levels. Tannins in feed have been shown to reduce methane.
He also plans to study how another compound, an anti-bacterial agent called resveratrol, affects E-coli, one of the main food safety concerns with beef.
He will also perform tests to see if the red wine affects cows temperament and will look at meat quality, tenderness and colour.