George and Karen Johnson, along with their three children Eric, Adam and Emily, are the amazing makers behind George Paul Vinegar. It all stems from 1999, when George planted a few scrawny grapevines in the Sandhills region of Nebraska. A challenge, to say the least, as the grapes must withstand long, harsh winters and a very short growing season.
By the time the family’s own grapes were ready for harvest, they had already practiced winemaking with local wild grapes and other fruits, so they were immediately ready to make wine from their own land. A friend loved the unique flavors so much that he suggested turning it into a concentrated vinegar.
Not too far away in Roslyn, South Dakota, the Johnson family connected with a vinegar expert and founder of the International Vinegar Museum, Lawrence Diggs, who taught them the ways of vinegar-making. And after a USDA-approved “feasibility study,” they were met with incredible potential to turn their wines into gourmet vinegars.
Soon after, in 2007, the family built a vinegar production facility in Cody, Nebraska – sustainable and energy-efficient with a Nebraska tradition-inspired solar construction, designed and built with their own hands. The bale walls are at least two feet thick to insulate against the dramatic weather changes, noise and wind outside, all to protect the highly sensitive processes going on inside.
With the 2008 harvest, the Johnsons started turning their wines into vinegar – the first bottled vinegars made with 100% Nebraska fruit were sold in fall of 2009. We at Mouth HQ are currently obsessed with their Emilia Vinegar, a chef favorite that requires a precious amount of juice, time and care. Named after daughter Emily, the bottles feature letterpress labels she prints herself!
Photo courtesy of Dana Damewood Photography.