Recently opened Fairview, NC winery Bee and Bramble LLC is proud to announce the release of its ﬁrst varieties of artisan-crafted honey wines available for sale in local and regional wine shops, bars and restaurants.
What began as a challenge to create the ﬁnest tasting meads, through pressure from admiring friends, grew into a prime business opportunity for owner and Head Mazer (“mazer” – mead maker) J.D. “Ivar” Schloz. Ivar explains how the business got its start:
“In 2009, while living in Fairview, I lost my job as metallurgical engineer at a company based out West. Faced with incredible uncertainty of the future, I started consulting on an independent basis. Of course, the timing was not great — the economy was in deep recession, and with no local job prospects and not much activity in my core area of expertise (aluminum manufacturing) the outlook was pretty bleak. I had the idea that I needed to create a second business–something small and nimble, and that would be able to provide a modest standard of living for myself and my family.
“I had resurrected my hobby interest in brewing, something I had done for decades but had not had much motivation to do here in Asheville (mainly due to the excess of great local beers, and great brewmasters). When a friend showed an interest in making mead, I was intrigued — I had always enjoyed meads made by friends, but I did not much care for most commercial meads: too sweet, not a lot going on aroma-wise; suitable for renaissance fairs and holidays, not much else. To me this represented a challenge — I wanted to make a mead that was more ‘dry’, something with an abundance of aroma and that one could drink regularly, as with a more usual red or white wine.
Being a process engineer by training, my core skills are ﬁne-tuning processes, making the best product given the inputs — materials, equipment, etc. So I decided I would apply my skills to making mead more enjoyable. I played with different honey sources and varieties, special yeasts, and different methods of fermentation. This all took place over a year-and-a-half period, after which I had something that I was very satisﬁed with. I love beer, and red wine, but found myself passing over these and favoring my own meads. I started to take my homemade honey wines to Old Time music festivals, and shared it with my friends. Over and over I heard two things from those I shared it with: ‘wow, I don’t even like mead but this is great’, and ‘you should really think about making this a business’. The idea took hold of me and I could not shake it. “
With its great local resources, and a rabidly-”locavore” population, the Asheville area seemed a perfect ﬁt for the business. Business development was marked by numerous delays and issues, and great hardship was endured in getting all of the necessary licenses and approvals from government, and in building the winery itself. It wasn’t easy; what kept it going was the reception and enthusiasm from all of the local businesses we’ve worked with, and especially the potential customers.
Going Local, Staying Local
From the beginning, Bee and Bramble has strived to be as “local” as it can be — from the honey and fruits, even the label artwork, every aspect of the business focused on staying as close to home as possible. We are very proud of this, as we believe that it serves the community much better than a desire to do things as cheaply as possible would. Ivar explains:
“I see this as the new model — getting away from the ‘big guys’ and doing more to promote and sustain community-oriented businesses. The artwork for the label was done by local artist Keith Phillips, the website from local web developer Susan Lee. Honey comes from a nearby source in the Appalachian mountains, fruits from McConnell Farms in Hendersonville. Labels from Wright Label (a NC company). Our T-shirts are done by local printer Cheney Graphics. Nearly all of the equipment I use is USA-made, even the bottles are made here. If I could have gotten everything locally I would have, even if it meant slightly higher cost. If my business only beneﬁted myself, and not the wider community, I probably would not have done it.”
In recognition of this concept, Bee and Bramble applied for–and received–from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (“ASAP”) certiﬁcation for the “Appalachian Grown” label. We are one of few local wineries to receive this certiﬁcation, and have contributed–by request–suggestions to ASAP’s guidelines for fermented products.
A Different Take on Mead – from Novelty to Daily Drinker
There are other honey wine offerings out there. Some of them ﬁt very well in the category, but therein lies the problem: the public is used to mead as a sweet, overly-honey ﬂavored beverage, suitable only for hot spiced drinks or renaissance-fair events. More often than not, a glass of mead represents an “every once in a blue moon” prospect. We know this from sampling what is available in wine stores and groceries, and we couldn’t imagine drinking very many of them on a regular basis.
We have a different take! Historically, meads were not always meant to be dessert offerings; instead, many were made to be true “wines” — where there is as much going on in the aroma as in the taste. We have fully embraced the concept, and our meads, melomels (honey fermented with fruits) and metheglins (with herbs) are all on the “dry” side, and with abundant nose to complement the taste. In order to preserve these, our wines are also unﬁltered, and unﬁned (ﬁning agents are often added to wines to clarify them). Though leaving out these additional steps places a lot of emphasis on getting the fermentation process “just right”, it helps preserve many of the more delicate ﬂavors that would otherwise be stripped out. The result is a beverage that really does compete with the more typical beer and wine as a daily drinker, or paired with a variety of foods–we even provide pairing suggestions on our labels.
We are very excited at Bee & Bramble to offer the Asheville area a new take on a classic beverage. Please look for us in local wine shops and bars, and give our honey wines a try!
J.D. “Ivar” Schloz