The idea of turning waste into wine sounds less crazy if you consider its origins: the urge to get alcohol when you’re broke.
Jeff Zeitler was a short-on-cash college student with an interest in making booze. But the raw material was expensive and hard to come by. Twenty years ago, home brew stores didn’t pepper the Twin Cities as they do now, and even if they did, imported Chardonnay juice was a luxury for a college dude.
“I just wanted to make alcohol with whatever I could find. So I got some apple juice from the grocery store and made some not very good hard cider,” says Zeitler.
Still, he was undeterred.
“I saw mulberries falling on the ground all over the place, and got the idea that I could make some wine out of them.” It turned out pretty good.
He kept at it. Now, 20 years later, he and his wife and business partner, Gita Zeitler, have a good enough product to bring to market.
Urban Forage Winery and Cider House has opened on East Lake Street. When people ask, “Where’s the vineyard?” Zeitler has to launch into his tale of foraging.
“People are all too happy to have us come and pick their apples,” he says, describing their method for gathering the raw materials for dry apple wine and cherry apple hard cider.
The process goes like this: The Zeitlers get in their minivan with a tarp and 50 burlap sacks they inherited from a coffee roaster. They hook a pole to the top of a tree, and then shake.
“Usually if there’s a tree in someone’s back yard, they’ve inherited it from the previous owner or even the owner before that. Ten to 15 bushels of apples can fall on the ground from one tree. They can rot, and attract bees, and people don’t like that.”
Which is why people like to see the Zeitlers show up. They focus on trees within five miles of the winery to keep it local.
Not every ingredient is foraged, but they take care to source supplemental produce locally as well. Their upcoming batch of mead will use honey purchased from an apiary in Hinkley, since it was too difficult to forage the amount required.
Grocery-store seconds are also fair game. They recently bought a bunch of cane sugar in damaged packaging from Co-op Partners, stuff that’s perfectly edible but would have otherwise wound up in the waste stream.
Summer will yield rhubarb, dandelion, and even carrot wine. Zeitler says not to worry. It doesn’t taste that carroty. “It’s a little more peachy.”
Urban Forage Winery & Cider House is now operating as a retail outlet. They’re in the process of building a taproom, which they hope to open sometime this year. Samples are available before you buy.
Urban Forage Winery & Cider House
3016 East Lake St., Minneapolis