Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Why I like email marketing

     Marketing is a lot like fishing. You put out a tasty lure and hope to get a bite now and then. A lot of the time it’s like ice fishing; a cold and lonely proposition. But once in a while, it’s like sitting in a quaint little row boat on a sunny day, with a good book, a good beverage and water so clear you can see the fish swimming near the lure. Once in a while, the fishing is even better than the catching.
     A recent email from a past metaphorical fishing trip with an old friend:

Hi,
I see on your website you are out of black currant vinegar. Whenever you get it in I would like 12 bottles of black currant and 12 bottles of cherry vinegar. I think my sister-in-law wants me to pick up a case of vinegar for her as well and I believe that she'll be wanting 4 bottles of strawberry and 20 bottles of cherry but I will confirm this with her and let you know. 

I have purchased vinegar from you the past two summers.

Sincerely,
Marlene
Austin, Texas

     I didn’t have to do any fishing with Marlene. She suggested the trip, 48 bottles worth, and that’s even better.
     Then there’s the recent exchange with a well-known Chicago chef. I don’t know how he heard about Leatherwood Vinegary but chances are he was out fishing (letting his fingers do the walking on the computer keyboard) for some authentic ingredients for his new restaurant. He initiated a conversation at 4:29 p.m. and it extended into the evening.

Hello,
 My name is John [famous chef from Chicago] and I will be the chef at the forthcoming [soon to be famous eatery] opening in Lincoln Park (Chicago) later this summer. I would love to know if you have any wholesale distribution in the Chicago area. I would love to try some of your vinegars.
 Thanks,
 John [famous chef from Chicago]
 [Soon to be famous] Tavern & Inn

     We haven’t expanded our distribution into the Chicago area though it is decidedly a marvelous idea. I’m sure there are dozens of gourmet shops and delis that would do a bang-up job of selling authentic artisan vinegar. But, not yet. When we sell wholesale, we normally require purchase of a case (24 bottles) to make a eye-catching display in a new venue. At this point, I didn’t know if John [famous Chicago chef] wanted to use the vinegar in his cuisine or sell it from a shelf.


Hi John,
Sorry, no distribution to the Chicago area but if you'd like to order vinegar in quantity, I'm sure we could figure something out.
Nancy
Leatherwood Vinegary

     A mere dozen minutes passed between his first “send” and the following message.

Hi Nancy,
Thanks for the speedy reply!  What would be sufficient quantity and how could I go about sampling your vinegars?
 Thanks,
 John [Famous-Chicago-Chef]

     We’ve found that we sell much more vinegar when people have a chance to taste it. In the past we have sent small tasting lures to potentially large fish but…well…actually…I thought this would just be a flash in the pan so why not enjoy the dance and offer a taste of Minnesota instead of trying to cash in on a big fish.

Hi John,
 It would be so nice to be able to do some kind of virtual tasting experience for you. But...well...let me just assure you that in ten years of having people taste our vinegars, the only ones that weren't impressed were vinegar haters...er...ya...it wasn't that they didn't like our vinegar, they just didn't like vinegar. But, our youngest taster was about 8 months old and the oldest in the 90s and most love it. The fruit flavors hold the flavor of the fruits from which they are made. The herbals speak loudly of their herbal infusions.

 Normally we require a wholesale purchase of a case (24 bottles) which are priced at 65 % of retail. Since you're considering using the vinegar in your menu (is that right or is your query for retail sales?), and I assume emphasizing the local (domestic) nature of the product, we would be willing to reduce the requirement to six bottles. We ship via [a fast and dependable delivery service] in the five-state area and Chicago is included in this area. We can ship 6 bottles for about $14 though we would need your zip code to determine an exact amount.

 If you'd like to look at our current inventory on our website (www.leatherwoodvinegary.com) and choose six, send a check and we'll ship them. If you'd like recommendations, let me know.

 Nancy



     It was 11:08 p.m. and John was still on the line.
Hi Nancy,
Thanks for the helpful info.  I love your excitement about the vinegars…makes me more excited to taste and use them!  We would be utilizing them for foodservice, not retail as well.  My zip  code is 60605, although the restaurant's is different and I'm honestly not exactly sure what it is at the moment.  Here are my six to choose from…and please steer me in a different direction if you suggest something I haven't picked since you know these much better than I do).
 Apple
Chokecherry (mainly because I have no idea what that is and I'm intrigued)
 Plum
 Anise Hyssop in Rhubarb
French Tarragon in Grape
 Thyme in Peach

Can you send me a total and I will send you a check?  Thank you!
 John [Chicago’s finest]

     I, however, had gone to bed and didn’t get his message til the next morning. I checked with Ron and though John’s selections looked good, we only had one bottle of Anise Hyssop left and if he wanted it in any quantity, we wouldn’t be able to accommodate him until we’d made more.

Hi John,
 Your choices look like good ones. Chokecherry is a tall shrub that grows wild in this area. It has clusters of small dark cherries that are very tart. They're most often used in jelly or syrup (if the jelly maker isn't successful in getting it to gel, which happens often enough). Of course wine makers like to use them, too.

 I'd like to swap out the Anise Hyssop in Rhubarb for Basil in either Rhubarb or Tomato. As a chef you know how wonderful basil is in anything with tomatoes. Basil in Rhubarb is a very "local" thing while Basil in Tomato is a delightful twist on using basil with tomatoes. The tomato wine isn't much to write home about but when it's been converted to vinegar and infused with basil, well, it's pretty special. What do you think? (Oh, and Ron says there's only one Anise Hyssop left and if you decided to use it regularly, you'd soon be out and we may not have any more for a while. The Anise Hyssop herb is off to a slow start in this rainy spring/summer we're having.)

 So, your total for three fruit vinegars at 65% of retail ($7.80 each) and three herbal vinegars ($9.75 each) plus $12.47 for shipping equals $65.12. Be sure to include the address to which you would like it shipped.

 Thank you!
 Nancy

     Though up late the night before, John was awake early and thinking about vinegar again by 8:59 a.m.
Hi Nancy,
Thank you for the guidance.. I'm actually curious about both of those vinegars you suggested.. Should I swap out something else for one of them? Either way, I'll defer to you.

The address of the restaurant is [on a lovely avenue in Chicago].  Is there any way to pay online or do I have to send a check?

 Thanks,
 John [Famous and ambitious Chicago chef]


     I’d already led poor John down a winding path so what did I have to lose?

Ooohhh...I would think you'd want to try the French Tarragon and the Thyme. For only the cost of the vinegar and 40 cents additional for shipping, you could get 7 bottles. Oh, and then there's the Scarborough Fair that has a great story. The lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel's song is from an old old poem of impossible love.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
 Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to the one who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Sewn without seams or fine needlework,
If she would be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Where never spring water or rain ever fell,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.
 
And on it goes for several more verses in which she responds with impossible tasks for him to do if he wants to be her lover again. Our Scarborough Fair vinegar is in mixed fruit, which in this case is a blend of apple and rhubarb. The four herbs combined with these two fruit flavors create a totally new party on the taste buds with no impossible tasks whatsoever.

But now I'm just making your job of choosing vinegar more difficult! Sorry. Eight bottles, perhaps?
Nancy

      Five minutes after my discretionary digression, John had made a decision.

You sang to me via email.. Sold.  Eight it is!

 Is there any online payment available or no?
Thanks,
 John

Yay!
 Sorry, no, no online payment option. I keep meaning to arrange something. But checks and cash still work for us.
 Nancy

Ok, no problem.. Can you send me an updated total and I will put a check in the mail today?
Thanks,
John

A few days later, John’s check arrived and the eight bottles were on their way. I sent him an email so he’d know they were coming.

Hi John,
No song today. How about a movie: "You've got mail!" Well, at any rate, your vinegar is on its way  : )
Nancy


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dressing for Success-ful Salads

Why a salad dressing book? Because dressing a salad is the most obvious use for Leatherwood vinegars. So many people have asked how to use the various flavors of vinegar. They often mention oil and vinegar but in a far off sort of way as if they’ve never actually dressed a salad with this most simple of dressings.

In my first vinegar-themed book Leatherwood Vinegary, a Winery Gone Sour, there is a whole chapter of recipes using vinegar. From salads to dessert, vinegar enhances and brightens the flavors of food as well as providing its own tangy acidic touch. The herbal vinegars take a step up by adding the distinctive flavor of each herb or herbal blend.

Dressing for Success-ful Salads, is a great way to start your exploration into the world of exciting salads and the sauces that dress them. We explore the world of vinegar, oil, salt, sweeteners and other ingredients for the making of dressings from classic to nouveau. Every ingredient is there for the purpose of creating flavor. Nothing is included to extend shelf life, artificially enhance otherwise inferior flavors, add thickness or create overly sweet syrupy concoctions.

Someone said recently that she wished she could taste salad dressings in the store before buying them because she was often disappointed when she tried them on her salads. How often does a bottle of dressing languish in the back of the refrigerator? How many other bottles join it as each one fails to satisfy? By learning to make your own, you will find the dressings that suit your taste profile and vanquish the banal bottles forever.

Each recipe is for a single serving. With the proper ingredients on hand, you will create a fresh dressing for each salad you make. Simply double, triple or quadruple as necessary to make the right amount for the number of people you are serving. Don’t double or triple it for your single salad; maybe you can’t eat too much salad but you can certainly overdo the dressing, calorie wise. A chart in the back of the book helps with multiplication just in case you’re cooking for a crowd or know that you like a particular recipe well enough to fill a decorative bottle that won’t languish.

The book also suggests combinations of vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, meat, cheese, as well as the greens that form the backdrop of your scenic salads. Enjoy the book and enjoy the exploration of eating well.

To order, please send a check for $5.95 (per book) plus $4 for shipping to: Leatherwood Vinegary, 20395 County Road 86, Long Prairie, MN 56347.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Foraging for Catnip



     Catnip grows wild here in central Minnesota as I’m sure it does in many places. We make a popular catnip vinegar so one of my duties this morning was to forage for some. As I weed and prune around the garden and orchard, I mentally map where I can find it when I need it. This time of year, most has already gone to flowers, with the leaves less than prime. But catnip continues to come up through the summer so I knew I’d find some young enough, maybe at the teenage stage.
     I collected a bucket and my new long-nose clippers. As I roamed, I clipped spent day lilies and hosta flowers as well as the occasional thistle. I checked the milkweeds for caterpillars but didn’t see many chewed leaves. I was pleased to see a monarch butterfly flit across the ponds. I hope it was planning to lay eggs on some of the milkweed we’ve saved for that purpose.
     Monarch eggs have suffered (if an egg can suffer) the predation by a variety of insects and protozoan parasites, seemingly reducing their numbers in recent years. About 20 years ago, we were concerned whether the monarchs would reproduce well in this area. We hadn’t seen many through that July but by the end of August we found many chrysalides hanging from the siding, statuary and lawn furniture.
     This year, and it’s already the end of August, I haven’t seen a single chrysalis, not even one caterpillar. We have plenty of milkweeds but few butterflies.
     My wandering across the yard in search of catnip led me to the best find near the chicken coop. The poor hens have been cooped up since they took a liking to strawberries and tomatoes. They even nibbled the leaves off the pepper plants when we set them out in the straw bale garden. We tried to fence them in with a makeshift fence. Though chickens aren’t high on the intelligence scale, they quickly found a way through. So, I bring them tasty morsels like melon rinds and the remnants of our meals of corn on the cob.
     The catnip was growing at the base of a huge basswood tree next to the coop. Scattered along with it was a healthy stand of deadly nightshade. That emphasizes the importance of knowing not only the plants that are useful but also those that grow alongside them.
     As I was clipping the catnip, I saw a flash of light. I thought I was seeing things until I heard a distant roll of thunder. We desperately need rain and it is in the forecast for today. The thunder was separated from the flash by long enough that I knew the lightning wasn’t close. But, flashes continued to come and each time the thunder was more immediate. I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable when several flashes were closely followed by ear-splitting thunder. There I stood, under a huge tree with a metal clipper with rubber handles and a ten-inch blade.
     What to do? I waited until the next flash and boom and then high-tailed it for the house, holding the clipper blade downward as if it would deflect the electrical charge if struck. Ron saw me coming and thought it was funny, I guess, though he hasn’t seen me run in quite a while. I didn’t linger out in the open but headed through the vinegary door while Ron stood outside looking upward. Well, he didn’t get struck, we got some rain, and now it’s moved on. 

     I washed the catnip and bagged it for the freezer. Our calico cat, Pandora, was enchanted by the bag. I gave her a stray leaf and she loved it, batting, tossing and nibbling on it. Javiar, the Maine Coon cat that belongs to our son, showed no interest at all. Our big orange tomcat, Jed, came late to the scene and ate the last bits. Catnip is a stimulant for cats so I suppose we’ll have them chasing each other through the house. It has a calming effect on humans so if you decide to try some of our catnip vinegar on your salad, you’ll enjoy the flavor and then calmly go about the rest of your day.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Blue ribbon wine

Ron has always said that it takes good wine to make good vinegar. He entered six Leatherwood wines in the Todd County Fair and was awarded six first-place ribbons.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April at Leatherwood

We’d like to think that the growing season is on its way. Ron optimistically pruned the apple trees yesterday. Today we have 6 inches of new snow. We know it can’t last, but everyone in the area feels the pain of one more day of winter’s blast.


The vinegary has been bustling with wine-making students. Have I mentioned that Ron gives classes for individuals and small groups? Working with wine kits, home grown or purchased fruit, participants learn the science of wine-making and set up their own batch in the first class. They come back to rack-off the wine from the primary fermenters into carboys and to monitor the fermentation process. Then a few weeks later, they come back again to bottle their wine and take it home. We have everything needed for making wine: all the equipment, materials and ingredients; even the bottles, corks and corkers. Some groups come back again and again for a fun time out and a good product to take home. Email Ron for more information.

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts about the new labels for our vinegar bottles. I’ve painted 11 fruit images to identify the fruit flavors of the vinegars. You can see all of them at Whimsy Home Designs. Those same images also help identify the kind of vinegar used in some of our new products: Rhubarb Vinegar Soap, Raspberry Vinegar Soap, Cranberry Vinegar Lip Whip and Raspberry Vinegar Skin Cream. For now, you can see these products on the Whimsy Home Designs website. Soon, they’ll be added to a new Leatherwood Vinegary web store.

Another recent development: the folks at Smude’s Sunflower Oil have put together a catalog of locally produced items for school fundraisers. The catalog looks great and it’s an absolutely terrific idea to offer high quality local products when the kids need to generate funds for their activities. Learn more on their website.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Tomato wine vinegar

      Tomato wine vinegar was a successful experiment.
      Ron hand selected the tomatoes and in the usual process, which lasts at least a couple of months, turned them into tomato wine. I wouldn't say it was gourmet quality, though like many wines, it maybe would have become an acquired taste. But Ron didn't leave it at the wine stage. He put the vinegar starter in and set it up for a slow wait to see how tomato wine tasted as vinegar.
      Tomato wine vinegar is pretty good. It was ready (has to be at least 5% acidity) about the time we had a good supply of basil in the herb garden. Of course basil and tomatoes are classic pairings, like dill and pickles, like Ozzie and Harriet, like Ben and Jerry. Well, something like that anyway. With the thick row of prime-for-picking basil, Ron immediately infused the tomato vinegar with lots of fresh basil. I say "immediately" but that part of the process takes another two weeks.
     When the basil/tomato vinegar was ready, we tasted and were blown away by the intense flavors. We immediately (not after two weeks) knew this would be special on anything with tomatoes: fresh tomato salsa, on salads, sprinkled on pizza, simmered into spaghetti sauce.
      The Leatherwood Basil in Tomato Wine Vinegar has been a hit and now, in 2013, it deserves a new label: a fresh beautiful watercolor tomato.
      Some have asked if we sell just the tomato wine vinegar. We haven't yet since all of it has been infused with basil. We need a lot to meet the demand. But, maybe, if the tomato crop is good this year...we'll see.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The second new label

     Leatherwood Apple Wine Vinegar was one of the first varieties we made and is still a popular choice.
     The new label design shows a generic apple. Many different kinds of apples go into the Leatherwood wine that becomes Leatherwood Vinegar. The early harvest MacIntosh apples are pressed in August making an early wine and a resultant vinegar that may be more true to one variety than later apples that are mixed together. But, we don't make any distinction on different apple varieties once they have become vinegar.
     Leatherwood Apple Wine Vinegar is a little different from apple cider vinegar. Cider is apple juice that has fermented to a low level alcohol. It is then converted to vinegar. We make wine from the juice rather than cider. It is then converted to vinegar in a slow natural process. Some of the Leatherwood Apple Wine Vinegar is infused with dill to make our very popular Dill in Apple Wine Vinegar. This is wonderful to use whenever you like to add the flavor of dill. Try it in potato salad, cole slaw and marinades. We like it on baked or broiled fish.

See more of Nancy Leasman's artwork, in the same style as the Leatherwood Vinegary labels, at www.whimsyhomedesigns.homestead.com.