Thursday, April 23, 2015

Do You Know Where the Only Sparkling Meadery in the World is Located?

First of all, you may be wondering what a "Meadery" is.  The actual definition of "Meadery" is a winery that produces wine made from honey.  This is an ancient technique, and mead can be found in many countries of the world.  It is often a sweet thick wine, or can be made thinner with the addition of water, and take on the taste of a sweet beer.

The Location: Heidrun Winery in Point Reyes, California

However, hidden in the coastal hills of Marin County, California in the small town of Point Reyes is the home of the only sparkling meadery in the world. Here the owners, make a still wine from honey diluted with 4 parts water, and then use the "methode Champenoise -- or traditionale method" to create sparkling mead.  It is called Heidrun Meadery, and is located less than a mile from the waters of the Pacific Ocean along Tamales Bay,.

Heidrun, from Norse mythology, is the name of a special goat that would produce mead in her udder. Mead was the only beverage that the Norwegian god Odin would drink, and it had to be from Heidrun. In keeping with the Norse mythology theme, the symbol of the winery is Odin's 8-legged horse, Sleipnir.

Process of Crafting Sparkling Mead

Arriving at the tiny winery, established on the outskirts of the small town of Point Reyes, you will find a tasting room built into a green house, a small garden, and a barn-like building to produce the mead.  Behind the barn are bee hives and a special flower garden to attract bees.  Production is quite small at 900 cases, and everything is done by hand.

The winery uses their own honey, but also buys honey from around California and Hawaii. It arrives in large sealed steel barrels that look like oil drums. First they soften the honey in the drum, then transfer to small stainless steel tanks for fermentation.  They add 4 parts water, Champagne yeast, food for the yeast, and tartaric acid (though they won't say how much).

Primary fermentation takes 7 to 10 days, then the wine is racked, boiled for clarification and to remove any wax build-up, and transferred into Champagne bottles for secondary fermentation.  More yeast and sugar is added.  Secondary fermentation in bottle takes 2 months.  The bottles are then riddled on a large gyro-palate for 4 days until the yeast sediment moves to the mouth of the bottle.

Next the wine is disgorged in the traditional process, but all by hand!  The tip of the bottle is frozen, the bottle cap opened so the frozen yeast plug shoots out.  Then the bottle is immediately corked, and the wire cage is applied.  No dosage is added, so they have to be careful not to lose too much wine from the bottle when they disgorge.

Next the sparkling mead is labeled, receives a foil and is ready for sale in several months.  It is designed to be consumed in 1 to 3 years.

Tasting Sparkling Mead

We were allowed to taste 6 different sparkling meads.  They were all quite unique tasting, depending on the type of honey used.  Most were very dry, and some actually taste like beer.  The nose was floral on a few, especially the California Orange Blossom which sells for $20 per bottle.  Quite a good deal after seeing how much work is involved in the process of crafting the sparkling mead.

Visiting Cowgirl Creamy  and Tamales Bay Oyster Company for Lunch

After our tour  and tasting at Heidrun Meadery, we drove about 5 minutes back into town to taste cheese at the Cowgirl Creamery.  We then brought cheese sandwiches from their deli, along with a bottle of chilled rose and sauvignon blanc to have a picnic in the sun at their outdoor picnic tables.  After lunch we wandered around town for a bit, peeking into shops, before driving back along Tamales Bay to stop for oysters.

We were not actually sure we would be able to get a table to buy and eat oysters because the several places to stop for fresh oysters along Tamales Bay can be quite crowed.  We were in luck, however, because Tomales Bay Oyster Company had some open picnic tables.  Therefore we bought 2 dozen oysters, watched the lesson on how to shuck them, then proceeded to open and eat every last one!  Delicious, but we wished our Heidrun Sparkling Mead had been chilled, because it would have been fabulous with the fresh oysters.

A perfectly lovely day in Marin County!

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