The craft cocktail craze that began just a few years ago is good business for bars and restaurants, and also for Edina resident Eric Seed, who owns the rare wine and spirits importer Haus Alpenz. However, when he started his business in 2005, craft cocktails had yet to appear. At that time, Seed was just a curious guy who saw an opportunity.
“We’re a family of foodies, and we always bring things back from trips,” Seed says. Friends in the restaurant industry would continually ask where he got certain wines, or how they could they get their hands on them, too. “So I began exploring what’s required for [importing] wine and spirits,” he says, and the planning began.
Importing wines and spirits is a highly regulated industry with strict licensing requirements on both the federal and local level. “I’ve worked in regulated businesses before, so that wasn’t daunting,” Seed says. What was daunting was that once he got the business going, he realized it was no longer a side-project; he quit his job at Cargill to commit full time to Haus Alpenz. “And shortly after I made the jump, my wife announced she was pregnant,” Seed says. “So anxiety is a great motivator to get things moving.”
However, anxiety couldn’t speed up the federal process, and it took nearly nine months to get the appropriate licenses and for Haus Alpenz to have products available in the United States. Even then, Seed says, “it’s not as simple as bringing stuff in and selling it to whomever.” As importers, Haus Alpenz legally can sell only to wholesalers, so they must find interested wholesalers. And further up the hierarchy, the producers, generally in Europe, must be willing to deal with requirements of the U.S. market. “There are unique labeling requirements and unique sizing requirements that don’t exist in Europe,” Seed says. Despite the hoops Seed had to jump through, Haus Alpenz has become a leading wine and spirits importer, and Seed has twice been named a James Beard Foundation award semifinalist, considered one of the highest honors for food and beverage professionals. “It’s an honor to see your name alongside some of the people you admire most nationwide—it’s deeply humbling,” he says.
Seed’s work has been helped by the revival of classic cocktails. “What today is called ‘craft,’ back [in 2005] would have been called esoteric and bizarre,” Seed says. He recalls meeting with a Minnesota distributor in the early days of Haus Alpenz, and someone mentioned vermouth. “The general manager said, ‘No way. That category is dead and dying more every day,’ ” he says. Today, craft cocktails have brought vermouth back into bars, restaurants and at-home liquor cabinets.
“There will always be people who care about this category,” Seed says. “There’s a segment of the population that gets very excited and looks at food and drink as a passion.”
As for Seed, though he does enjoy the classic drinks, he prefers light spritz drinks. “We have a number of aperitif wines that you put on ice with a splash of soda and a slice of fruit.” And recently, he’s come across a group of oxidized wines “that predate modern viticulture,” he says. “We’re not talking about wine that’s gone bad prematurely, but wine that’s been aged intentionally.” Called Madeira and rancio sec, these wines are extremely dry and aged no fewer than three years for the Madiera and five years for the rancio sec. Because they are fully oxidized, these wines can keep for months after being opened—not that you’ll want to wait that long to drink it.
Living in the Twin Cities is ideal for Seed with a nearby airport, and a food and drink culture that rivals coastal cities. He wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else, he says. “It’s easy to be a food enthusiast living here.”