Monday, June 9, 2014

Urban Forage Winery and Cider House!

last fall's crop of hard cider
I may not have been emphatic enough in my last post.  I tend to do that.

But yes, we ARE starting a business that makes wines, ciders (and mead!) from local fruit and honey.

It's a windy, bumpy road- starting a business that makes alcohol in Minnesota in 2014.  A bit easier than it may have been a couple of years ago, but still a bumpy road.

I spent a considerable amount of time while I was unemployed lobbying for the passage of a bill in my state legislature that would allow urban wineries to be treated the same as farm wineries.

I had no luck there.  The Minnesota farm wineries know that they have a good thing going and don't want to let anyone else in on it.  Right now they pay a tenth of the licensing fee of a non-farm winery and are allowed to make a full range of products, including hard liquor and have a bar, and have on-site retail sales.   Me, being in the city and not the owner of a large tract of land, must pay the full fee and sell through an approved wholesaler and so on and so forth.


our first piece of professional equipment- a rather attractive 300 liter stainless fermenter
I am pondering the options.  Open a brewery- or at least a business that is licensed as a brewery, and comply with the regulations (silly as they are) that require that I mix everything I make with at least 25% barley sugar (also known as malt) to magically make them into beer.  So I can make cider, mead, fruit concoctions- with 1/4 malt syrup, and they can be sold under far fewer restrictions than can the same beverages made solely with fruit or honey.  Then, I can have a bar- or taproom as it is known in Minnesota- and I can sell bottles of cider and mead for home consumption.

On the other hand- I could go for the more expensive and restrictive winery license- and produce wines, fortified wines, meads and ciders which are completely gluten-free and made from pure extracts of whatever I choose to make them from and make them as strong as the yeast will allow them to be.  This is the purists' route, and of course the route I'd prefer to go- except that it may not be monetarily viable- at least in the short term.  One of the tiny little problems with going this route is the fact that the only outlet for my wines, meads or ciders would be, by law, through a wholesaler, who would then sell to a retailer, and who would both take a rather large cut of the profit and leave me with relatively little.

Yes, the law makes no sense.  Some people have advised me to buy a farm, which I admit I've thought about.  But that would also mean selling our house, uprooting our kids and a adopting a completely different lifestyle, not to mention the possibility of failure being much more catastrophic if I'm unable to get a job in whatever rural area we'd end up in.

our kids and a couple of their cousins- gathering dandelions in Highland Park
No- I love the city, and everything that goes with it, good and bad. 

One of the good things about the city for an aspiring winemaker is the glut of fruit and flowers that grows all around and never makes it into food or forage.  There are countless apple and plum and mulberry trees going unpicked within a few miles of us because the owners are too busy to pick them, don't know what the fruit is, are afraid of bugs, or simply don't know that they can pick the fruit off of their tree as easily, if not more so, than they can pick fruit from the produce section of Whole Paycheck.  It's that fruit that I want to harvest and make into wine and cider.  And mead from the nectar, gathered by the hardworking bees of the city.

That's my vision.  For now, I am still working full time as a landscape architect.  Harder than ever at the new job.  I sit at my computer, looking out the window and wondering what else I could be doing at that moment- what opportunity is passing by that I'm not taking advantage of.  What fruit is falling off of a tree unnoticed.  What license I should be applying for that I'm not.  What person should I be calling to talk about labels?   So much to do, and so little time.

How many dandelions do you need to make a batch of wine?  About this many.

The newest batch, now in the new 300 liter (about 80 gallons) fermenter is a batch of dandelion wine, with some lilacs added for extra bouquet.  It's the flavor of Minnesota in May- the essence of the most loved and the most hated of the flowers of Minnesota.  At least that is what I'm shooting for.  It'll be ready to try in September.  Just in time for our Kickstarter campaign.

If you'd like to learn more see our new website: and/or our facebook page at




  1. Maybe go with the malt option to start with, make your profits, and then scale up to diversify along the 'purist' route?

  2. Why not partner with someone who has a farm and can meet the state guidelines? You do all the hard work and give them 10% for the trouble.

  3. Hi Jeff- Just found your blog ! Great to see the winery idea coming to fruition . Let myself and Kristin know if you want help getting the East Lake St location up and running. I can paint and were happy to watch the kids if you need some space to work on this plan . I think you need to take a roadtrip out to this place... . The owners seems like they also had a dream to setup a winery and are finally making it happen. Might give you an idea of things to think about in the planning phase to make things easier as you plan out the winery idea ! THX Graham

  4. Hi Jeff! I really hope the winery works out - it is an incredible idea. Is there any way you can be a "restaurant" or "bed and breakfast" type business and serve your own goods on premise?

    Also, I am about to spend the week in Columbus, OH for a conference. After searching for a food coop (always a good place to start when in a new city), I google street-viewed some of the neighborhoods and thought of you. There are so many beautiful old buildings (circa 1920-40s - art nouveau? ) that are being revitalized as part of neighborhood revitalization (esp. affordable housing), with a demand to preserve as much as possible. The neighborhoods remind me some of Mnpls/SP,

    Anyway, just sending general enthusiasm your all's way. :)