Fifty varieties of vinegar produced at Leatherwood Vinegary near Long Prairie

Nancy Leasman

Nancy Leasman, who owns Leatherwood Vinegary with her husband, Ron, is also an accomplished author, artist and illustrator. She is pictured with the line of products available at the business.

By Liz Verley, Staff Writer

Nancy and Ron Leasman have lived in the Long Prairie area since 1980, and raise their own fruit trees and grapes. The fruit is made into wine and then processed into various vinegars.

“Our vinegary is a quaint little place where we make quality wine from real fruit, much of it grown right here,” said Nancy. “We convert our wine to tasty unique vinegars.”

The vinegary, which may be one of the only ones in Minnesota, is located on 40 acres of Minnesota soil just north of the Long Prairie River.

The Leasmans raise the majority of the fruit and herbs used in their vinegar production. They have plum, apple and cherry trees, as well as rhubarb plants and grape vines.

This spring they will plant honeyberry plants. While it will be two years before the honeyberry produces fruit that will be used, it will be a new addition to the line presently under production.

The flavor of honeyberries is very hard to describe, the Leasmans said, so it may be best to just say it’s a “mystery berry” flavor, reminding some people of blackberry, cherry and even grape or kiwi. Having a very thin skin, the zesty berries melt in one’s mouth and can be used in a favorite blueberry recipe.

Honeyberry bushes grow from 3 – 8 feet tall, with oblong berries 1/2 – 1 inch or more in length, depending on the variety. A member of the honeysuckle family, the honeyberry shrub grows circumpolar in the northern hemisphere.

“It generally will take two months to make the wine and another eight to 10 months to convert the wine into vinegar,” said Nancy.

“Each vinegar is flavored only by the fruit from which it is made,” she said. “Herbal flavors are made by infusion: herbs are allowed to infuse the vinegar for up to two weeks to impart their flavors. All bottles are sealed with beeswax.”

Ron, a retired state patrol officer, takes on the duties of turning the wine into vinegar.

After the wine has reached its proper stage, a vinegar starter is added to the wine. All the producing, from beginning to end, is done on the property. The vinegar itself is done in a room off the side of the couple’s home.

The vinegar must reach an acidic acid content of 5 – 8 percent. After some of the vinegar reaches that stage, Ron will infuse various herbs, such as cilantro, dill, mint, mug work, garlic, rosemary, ginger and some with peppers. While the ginger is not raised by the Leasmans, most of the other herbs are.

Ron keeps detailed notes on each batch he makes.

When the couple came up with the idea of a vinegary, they knew they would need a license. Nancy said, “An inspector visited and told us what we would need — from the various stainless steel sinks and counters to the flooring.”

“We were very lucky. At the same time there was a restaurant that we knew was having a sale and we were able to purchase a majority of what we needed. When the inspector came out to license the vinegary before we opened, he could not believe we had taken his advice,” said Nancy.

Vinegar is not just for pickling or cleaning windows anymore.

“There are so many ways to use the various vinegars,” she said. “I use them with almost anything I cook. From stir fry to spaghetti sauce, from marinades to salads, chili to Pavlova, there is a flavor of vinegar to enhance flavors of anything.”

Nancy has written a book titled, “Leatherwood Vinegary, a Winery Gone Sour.” She has illustrated several books, created a line of note cards, does portraits, whimsical paintings and painted murals at the Long Prairie Museum. She does commission work, too. She also designed and created the labels that appear on the bottles of vinegar.

Tours are available at the vinegary, for both individuals and groups. If one visits in the summer, they can actually tour the orchards and herb garden along with the vinegary. The gift shop is open during the summer.

During the winter, free tours at the vinegary are still available as are the large variety of vinegars.

Those who tour are also given a taste of various vinegars. Nancy said, “We discovered a shot glass sample was too much. Now we give drops on a spoon.”

The Leasmans have shipped their vinegars as far away as Australia.

For more information, call (320) 732-2879 or e-mail leatherwood@wisper-wireless.com.

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