Urban Forage Winery & Cider House
is looking to join the abundance of local beverage startups in the Twin Cities. With the recent arrival of cider brewers and micro-distilleries, Urban Forage’s Jeff Zeitler is asking “Why not an urban winery?”
The answer is complicated due to national, state and city regulations. But Zeitler is forging ahead with renovations to the future home of the Midwest’s first urban winery, in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Zeitler has been making wine, cider and mead with fruit and other ingredients foraged in the Twin Cities for two decades. Whether shaking mulberry trees in Como Park or plucking donated apples from a neighbor’s tree, his process leads to a product with the unmistakable terroir
of the Twin Cities. His latest dandelion lilac wine was a big hit at his block’s National Night Out party, he says.
To scale the operation up to a commercial level (he wants to produce almost 6,000 gallons of product a year), he hopes to supplement what he can forage with produce past its shelf life—but still good for making wine—from local grocery stores and warehouses. He also plans to use surplus fruit from area orchards and farms. He’s going to have to clear some regulatory hurdles first, though.
To protect and promote Minnesota’s fledgling rural wine industry, the State Legislature passed the Farm Wineries Act
in 2012. The statute gives farm wineries special status under Minnesota liquor laws, with a number of special allowances such as Sunday sales, self-distribution and the ability to operate a full restaurant.
The law also specifies farm wineries must be located on agricultural land—a sticking point for Zeitler’s “urban winery,” which would be located at 3016 East Lake Street in Minneapolis. He would be able to operate under a previous winery law still on the books, but wouldn’t have the many advantages allowed to farm wineries.
Zeitler spent the last year lobbying the State Legislature to even the playing field between farm and urban wineries. “Right now rural wineries have a lot of advantages…and I was trying to get urban wineries put on the same level, but there were a lot of people opposed,” he says.
If Zeitler were to mix a certain percentage of barley malt in with cider while brewing, as other cider makers in the area do, he could operate with a brewer’s license and enjoy the benefits offered to brewers under recent state and city legislative changes that have lead to the brew boom in the Twin Cities. But he’s unwilling to do so, which leaves him with a winery designation in the eyes of the federal government.
After hiring a lawyer to help interpret state statutes, Zeitler is now confident state law will allow him to sell onsite and operate the winery equivalent of a taproom. Current city regulations, however, would not.
So as things currently stand, Urban Forage Winery can produce onsite, distribute via a distributor and sell online. For now, Zeitler says, that’s enough. He will take the fight to the Minneapolis City Council.
Regardless, Zeitler plans to begin production in spring of 2015. “If nothing else, we will do production in the basement,” he says. “If we never get self-distribution or sales onsite, well, who knows how long we’ll make it? But we’re going to give it a shot.”