On the edge describes how Greg and Becky Hunn have lived, taking on one challenge after another, so it seemed natural to include that life descriptor in the name of their new business.
After all, what could be more on the edge than retiring, then deciding to start a business, and doing it in the middle of a pandemic?
Greg Hunn waited excitedly for the state inspection of On The Edge Vinegar in Erie on Sept. 17, bringing to fruition an idea that came about four years ago as the couple pondered using their small vineyard of 1,200 vines to make their own products, rather than selling their grapes to Kansas wineries.
On The Edge grows Chambourcin, Golden Muscat, Sparta, Concord, Catawba, Melody, Chardonel, Traminette, Vignoles and St. Vincent, but the Hunns determined selling those grapes annually was proving difficult to coordinate for various reasons.
Four years ago, Becky Hunn’s treatment for cancer led to grapes falling off the vine while they were away. What was left to be harvested was not quality, nor enough, for sale, so they were looking at making some homemade wine. Talking to a coworker after that, it was suggested the Hunns make gourmet vinegar instead, as they had just seen a television show about it. Greg Hunn tossed the idea to his go-to friend in Reno, Nevada, who promptly sent him a picture of a bottle of fig-infused balsamic vinegar his daughter had just bought him at a farmers market.
Those inputs launched Greg Hunn into researching making vinegar, processing, development and trying to develop a product. Most books offered him little education. One by Lawrence Diggs, “The Vinegar Man,” who runs the International Vinegar Museum in Roseland, South Dakota, gave him some guidance. However, the most useful information he was able to gather actually came with the “mother of vinegar” he ordered online.
Mother is a kind of membrane composed of yeast and bacterial cells that develops on the surface of alcoholic liquids undergoing acetous fermentation and is added to wine or cider to produce vinegar.
“It’s been a process,” Hunn sad. “It’s been so fun though.”
How everything has come into line to bring the Hunns to this point in time is simply amazing, he said. For example, when they first started the vineyard, they started with 50 Concord grape vines. Then, following the suggestion of a friend, they ordered 300 Catawba vines.
“When it comes down to it, if you look at the ingredients of a balsamic vinegar from Italy, it is Lambrusco grapes, which is a Catawba and a Concord. So I put myself in this place and didn’t even know it,” Hunn said. “It’s been so crazy. This thing has been such a metaphor for what’s possible. It’s like the vineyard and deciding not to sell grapes and just making wine on our own … and then this comes up and it changes the whole dynamic of a small vineyard.
“Now I have a vinegar vineyard, growing grapes to make sour wine. I’m making what every winery is trying to prevent. It’s so crazy,” he said laughing.
Two years ago he bought a travel trailer that would serve as his “lab” for making the vinegars. His friends, Joe Knight and Ben McKenzie, came over to look at the trailer, which will was still set up as a travel trailer. They informed him he needed to gut it. He resisted at first, admitting he felt he was not skilled or prepared to do that. His friends convinced him he could, and he did, then Knight’s wife, Tina, volunteered her husband to help Hunn rebuild the interior of the trailer. McKenzie donated a triple-basin sink, and his friend, Kelly Coover, built him a stainless steel hand-washing sink and table. Bit by bit his now stationary kitchen came together. Once it was complete, his family came together with some spray paint and went to work on the outside, giving the trailer a little hippie flair and a lot of color.
The original drawing for the trailer became the picture they decided to use on their business cards and their label, as it speaks to everything the business represents in a unity and oneness to reach a goal.
Hunn said he has been the driving force for their move to producing vinegar, but he said so many people are a part of it, including his amazing wife.
“Beck says, ‘Well this is Greg’s project,’ and it’s annoying to me. With me and her, there is no me and her, it’s us,” he said.
The back label they are having made shares that story, starting with a picture of them from 1980, when they first got together.
“So much of this stuff is from her. That vineyard idea was not mine. It was hers. I’m just the guy that will go crazy with the idea and she know’s it,” Hunn said. “This farm, she grew up here and spent her summers here. It’s like taking this family farm to a new level. … All of that is distilled down into this vinegar, which is just outrageously cool.”
Last year, after hearing from so many family and friends that they loved the product, he decided he needed to commit and get the license to make the vinegar to sell, so he started talking to people.
“I went to the farmers market workshop last year at the K-State Extension. I walked in there and asked, ‘Who do I need to talk to about selling vinegar?’ I got Adam Inman. He’s one of the head state safety agents. I went up to him and said, “Dude, I want to make gourmet vinegar.’ And he’s like, ‘What?’ I’m like ‘Yeah, I want to make gourmet vinegar.’ They didn’t even know how to categorize me because I am the only one in the state doing it,” Hunn said. “It’s so crazy. I’m totally on the edge right? He gets super excited about it and this is a safety agent. It transformed all these inspectors. They are like so pumped about it. They’ve worked with me, and for me, and have kind of been a champion for this project because it’s so unique.”
All Hunn had to acquire was a food processing license and he moved through that two weeks ago and immediately began to sell his product at the local farmers market.
Wine vinegar people find in a store, other than balsamic, is probably like acetic acid, produced quickly in bulk, converting ethyl alcohol to vinegar. Hunn uses the Orleans technique, a slow-conversion process, “which makes it amazingly delicious. It’s nothing like what you buy in the store.”
Even some people who have never tried vinegar love it and some who don’t like regular vinegar like his.
Right now, as he is getting his footing, the local farmers market where he has been doing free vinegar tastings and Facebook have been his only points of sale other than word of mouth. Those interested in his product can contact him via Facebook at On The Edge Vinegar. He said people can come out to their farm and he also will present private tastings for people if there is an interested group.
Already, he has a few area restaurants interested in his products, which is where he truly wants to head with his product.
“I would really like to sell to chefs,” he said. “I would love just the chef market. I watch those shows where they are walking around farmers markets and I think if I could connect one of them with my vinegar, they would be so happy.”
When deciding the direction to move with his artisan and gourmet vinegars, he turned to Instagram friend Chef Dom, Dominick Piatto, in Florida and asked him for suggestions for infusions, and he got very excited. He threw out the idea for a citrus infusion that he could use with Brussels sprouts, or fish, or salads.
That sent Hunn on a mission of discovery, testing flavors to use for infusions. So far, he as developed an Italian blend. Another he calls salza because he and his brothers never pronounced salsa correctly. It contains Mexican oregano, cilantro, garlic and onion. Another is simply jalapeño. Though it is not really an infusion, he created another flavor by allowing oak to sit in the vinegar.
These are just the beginning. More ideas are developing, including plans to experiment with making an infusion with habaneros and ghost peppers. He just has to find some brave testers.
“It’s all just so fun,” Hunn said. “It’s just amazing to me. Now that we have an established vineyard, there are so many possibilities, and this is just one of them. It’s been an amazing thing.”