A featureless, white stucco storefront along East Lake Street in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood will find its way into the history books this fall as home to the first winery in Minneapolis–St. Paul since before Prohibition.
Husband and wife Jeff and Gita Zeitler are the founders of Urban Forage Winery & Cider House, which will be located in the former jewelry store and barber shop that they own and are currently renovating.
Jeff is a landscape architect by trade, but has been making his own wines and ciders for over 20 years. He began at the University of Minnesota where he fermented cider in his dorm room and foraged mulberries from local trees for wine. While the results were admittedly not great, Jeff was hooked.
“[It] was exciting to be able to find the ingredients in the grocery store or around the neighborhood, like mulberries or rhubarb, or anything else,” says Jeff. “Finding peaches in the store then making wine out of it was kind of this anarchist, do-it-yourself way of being.”
Over the past two decades, Jeff has crafted dozens of fruit wines, ciders, and meads from fruit he and his wife gathered from neighborhood trees and grocery store overstock. When Jeff was laid off from his job, Gita encouraged him to pursue his dream of opening a winery in the basement of the East Lake Street building they purchased at the end of the Great Recession.
Soon Jeff was in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, purchasing four 500-liter and three 1,000-liter stainless steel fermenters from a winery that was closing. From December 2014 to April 2015, he worked at a farm winery and cidery in Wisconsin as an intern to become acquainted with the equipment and methods of commercial winemaking.
“A lot of the lessons I learned there I’m trying to integrate into our plan, like having a trench drain the length of the floor,” says Jeff. “That’s the one thing the winemaker said again and again: ‘I wish we had a trench drain.’”
In addition to the internship, Jeff and Gita, who will manage business operations, talked with local breweries to glean as much information as possible on navigating some of the legal hurdles they faced. “We’re kind of blazing a trail. There’s no precedent for it as far as I know, at least in the city,” Jeff says.
While Minnesota is home to a number of farm wineries, Urban Forage will be operating under a different law—the old commercial winery law. Under that law, Urban Forage will be able to sell its wine, cider, and mead on-site by the bottle and the glass—an opportunity they’ll take advantage of in the taproom they hope to open next year. But the law restricts them from self-distributing, so they will work through a distributor to sell kegs of cider to bars and restaurants.
When up and running, Jeff and Gita plan to source fruit from backyard apple trees and other fruit trees around the city, from grocery overstock and past-saleable fruit, and from the fruit left hanging on orchard trees at the end of season to craft one-of-a-kind ciders and wines.
Maker: Jeff Zeitler
Products: Hard cider, mead, and semi-dry and semi-sparkling fruit wines
Visit: 3016 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN
Hours: TBD upon the opening of the taproom