Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Unique Longfellow business makes cider out of fruit foraging

Posted on 26 June 2017 by calvin

By JAN WILLMS
While getting his degree in journalism with a minor in geography from the University of Minnesota, Jeff Zeitler was also indulging in a favorite pastime—making wine in his dorm room.

“That was probably about 25 years ago now, and this is the outgrowth of many years of amateur winemaking,” he noted, as he glanced around at Urban Forage Winery and Cider House at 3016 Lake St.

Urban Forage 1Photo right: Jeff Zeitler displays the products he has created from foraged fruits. (Photo by Jan Willms)

He is in the midst of finishing renovating the main floor of the building, which was originally built in 1916 and has housed a variety of businesses over the years, ranging from a barber shop to a pawn shop. “It’s a nondescript building, but it has a juicy history,” he said with a smile.

Zeitler also completed a master’s in landscape architecture. “I have degrees all over the place that have nothing to do with what I am currently doing,” he noted. “Although I will say my experience as a landscape architect led me to this path of foraging fruit.”

His work took him to many places where people had planted trees, but they did not want the fruit and never used it.

“This planted a seed in my brain,” Zeitler said. “There was a huge opportunity with this problem. I had no problem asking people if they would like me to remove their fruit. I would go in and forage the fruit, clean the yard up carefully afterward and leave them a bottle of cider. People were thrilled I was taking away their fruit, and I was thrilled to be getting it.”

In 2014 Zeitler, with the help of his wife Gita, started foraging in earnest. They stored apples in their garage and also were able to find many other fruits, including cherries and apricots. They have a yard full of rhubarb, and so do their neighbors.

“My wife and I started looking at foreclosed buildings, and we had some savings. With the recession, we found a lot of vacant buildings,” Zeitler explained. He had been working at an office job as a landscape architect, but business was slowing down.

“I never thought until recently that the winemaking could be any more than a hobby,” he recalled. But one day I was making wine in the kitchen, and my four-year-old daughter looked at me. “Daddy, you love making wine, and you hate your job. Why don’t you become a winemaker?

I started thinking about it, and then we found this building. My wife looked at the basement and said I could have the winery down here. And I thought I actually could.”

After purchasing the building, the Zeitlers fixed the upstairs up to office standards and leased it out for two and a half years to a company that provided personal care assistance. That company used the space for its main office.’

In December 2015 Urban Forage Winery and Cider House opened for limited business on Fridays and Saturdays, selling ciders and wines in the basement quarters, where several fermenters are used for making the wine. In August, Zeitler hopes to open the upstairs for sales, where people can come in and purchase a glass of wine or cider.

Urban Forage 2Photo left: Jeff Zeitler checks on his fermenting equipment in the basement of his business location. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“We will keep the basement as the winemaking and storage area,” he explained. “Ninety-nine percent of the action will happen upstairs, regarding the general public.” The business currently has seven products on the market, with some available in liquor stores, such as Gin Botanical and Semi-sweet Cider. Products at the Urban Forage location include pear cider, cherry apple cider, rhubarb wine and dandelion wine.

“This year we foraged everything,” Zeitler said. “We got apples, spices for the Gin Botanical, pears, dandelions, rhubarb and cherries from Minneapolis trees.”

He said his favorite part of the operation is the foraging. “I love picking fruit, interacting with people.”

He said the challenging parts of the business are the required permits, although he credits the City of Minneapolis with being fair, and Council member Cam Gordon with helping them work through any problems. “Our current building inspector is tough but fair, and he points out ways we can improve things,” he added. Zeitler said the winemaking is also a challenge. “I enjoy it, but on a larger scale it becomes a lot more work,” he said. He said that his wife has been a big help, but she also works a full-time job and he finds it hard sometimes to make the cider and the wine, do the construction and the marketing. “We do have some volunteer help here and there, but it has been mostly me,” he noted.

As well as the “Curious Community” program they did with the East Lake Library June 26, Urban Forage Winery and Cider House is doing a kickoff July 7 for Cider for Life, a program in which a person can pay $1000 and get two glasses of cider every day for as long as the business is open, for the rest of their life.

Zeitler said the winemaking from the college days has grown in scope quite rapidly, but he still enjoys the process of foraging for the ingredients and making the wines and ciders. And so far as he knows, the business is unique and the only one of its kind in the Twin Cities.

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