Photos by James Michael O’Connell
Ali Yaghoubi isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he bought land in Stormville in 2011, he knew absolutely nothing about farming. Just eight years later, he runs Alistone Vineyards, selling table grapes to local supermarkets.
But his latest venture is his greatest challenge yet. He’s offering the Hudson Valley a product we didn’t even know we were missing: verjuice.
Verjuice is a sour juice made from grapes that is commonly used in Persian cuisine. Similar in flavor to lemon juice, it is often mixed with other products to create salad dressings, marinades, or sauces. When Yaghoubi found himself faced with an excess of grapes on his farm, he was reminded of the household item used while growing up in Iran.
“My wife and I said, ‘Why not? Let’s make some verjuice,’” Yaghoubi says.
With the help of a SARE Farmer Grant and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County, Yaghoubi began verjuice harvest in July 2018. Since then, the unripe grapes have been picked, washed, squeezed, and left in the sun for months before being bottled up as promotional samples. Yaghoubi also uses tricks from his family back home in Iran to set his product apart.
Although the verjuice is still in the works and not yet bringing in a profit, Yaghoubi said he’s thankful that his experimentation has elicited a positive response.
“Verjuice is a common food ingredient in French cuisine,” Yaghoubi says. “I hope that in the future, they [Americans] use this one because it is good for cholesterol, it is healthy, it is natural, it is organic, and we can produce and market verjuice at a lower cost than lemon juice, vinegar, and balsamic.”
Ali Yaghoubi with his grapes