Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Plans for new meadery generate buzz in Point Reyes

Posted: 12/29/2009 04:22:35 PM PST
Rob Rogers

Gordon Hull wants you to know that the honey wine he plans to make in West Marin is not your great, great, great grandfather's mead.

"When I began making mead 12 years ago, nobody knew a thing about mead - or if they did, they were thinking about Chaucer, Shakespeare or people drinking out of medieval flagons," said Hull, who received Marin County approval last week to open his Heidrun Meadery on a former dairy farm just north of Point Reyes Station.

He expects to move operations there from Arcata in the next few months, establishing the first large-scale meadery in the county.

"A lot of the people who make mead today adhere to some of the more ancient recipes," Hull said. "And for people who have had some experience tasting meads, it hasn't always been a good experience."

Mia McNeil-Draper puts it less delicately.

"People associate mead with a syrupy-sweet concoction that is justifiably universally hated," said McNeil-Draper, a San Anselmo resident whose work with Marin County Beekeepers has given her the opportunity to sample a better class of the world's oldest fermented beverage.

"In fact, mead can be anything," McNeil-Draper said, adding that Beowulf Mead owner "Joshua Archer has been working with the beekeepers for two years, and the mead he has helped us make has been a treat for all of us."

Hull hopes people will feel the same way about his mead, a carefully crafted concoction the former brewer says is closer to sparkling wine than the beverage
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served at a Renaissance faire.

"My idea was to appeal to a more sophisticated palate," Hull said. "I had to experiment for two years to develop a satisfactory product, focusing on making something dry and well-balanced."

Hull has spent the past 12 years making, perfecting and selling his mead from an Arcata facility he describes as "a light industrial warehouse." By moving to a 16-acre farm in West Marin - part of the former Giacomini Dairy - Hull hopes to expand his operation, producing much of the honey he'll use in his mead.

"We've been purchasing honey from other artisan beekeepers; the idea now is to use our own honey to produce our own mead," Hull said. "We'll also be cultivating nectar-producing crops, from fruit trees to cover crops, to feed our bees."

Hull said his six new beehives - which he hopes to expand to 12 by the spring - may travel throughout West Marin, helping other farmers pollinate their crops. That's one of the reasons the county Community Development Agency recommended the meadery for a permit. And it's good news for the bees, said McNeil-Draper, who hopes the meadery will help draw attention to an insect that's suffered tremendous losses in the past two years.

"There's been a great deal of publicity about the decline of bees, and that has made people much more aware of the products of the hive," McNeil-Draper said. "So I can see why people would begin to explore and understand mead a little more as a drink that's something different from what they might have had in the past."

In addition to the meadery, Hull has also obtained permits to raise horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens on the property, where he lives. His permit would allow him to produce up to 20,000 cases of mead each year - a goal that would require up to 36 hives and 11,000 gallons of honey - though Hull says that's a far cry from the 800 cases he sold this year.

"We're hoping to produce 2,000 cases in our first 12 months, and try to reach 20,000 cases in 10 years," Hull said.

Although most of his sales are to restaurants and retailers, Hull plans to open an on-site tasting and sales room on the Point Reyes property, with parking for up to 15 vehicles. He expects to begin work on the project as soon as he receives a building permit from the county.

Meadmaker Archer, who distributes his Beowulf Mead through Ross Valley Winery in San Anselmo, said he's looking forward to having a high-quality competitor in the county.

"I'm really excited he's coming. In fact, I envision possibilities for more meaderies taking residence in West Marin, creating a mini-Napa," Archer said. "I think West Marin is a place a lot of people like to go to refresh themselves, and it will be nice to have something new and interesting for them to do while they're out there."

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