It hadn’t occurred to me that the wine scene in West Marin might have much in common with the wine scene in Ethiopia until I read an article that mentioned tej, the traditional honey wine of Ethiopia.
Then I mentioned this to Heidrun Meadery-founder Gordon Hull, who not only knows about tej, but has also sampled different kinds of varietal Ethiopian honey. Hull says, as he cautiously watches a tank of just-brewed honey-and-water mixture, that he’d love to import some for his own méthode champenoise—sparkling mead—someday.
For now, Point Reyes Station’s Heidrun focuses on making varietal mead from sources located on the West Coast, and in Florida and Hawaii. When Hull talks about “varietal mead,” he means the honey it’s fermented from comes from beehives deployed for the pollination of a particular flowering crop. Take California orange blossom ($25). Growers and consumers want oranges, but to get them they need orange tree blossoms to be pollinated—largely, by European honeybees brought in by professional beekeepers. But who cares about Oregon chicory blossom ($28), since there’s no fruit to eat? Chicory farmers need the seeds, and Oregon does big business in seed farming. The honey that results, that’s just gravy. Well, honey. This mead has an intriguing juniper-like aroma.
Because each honey, from each region and flower source, has a unique character, Hull explains as he pours a pitcher of clean-fermenting champagne yeast into a sterilized tank, his aim is to preserve that aroma’s expression in the mead, without the influence of native yeasts or souring bacteria.
My favorite mead from this tasting was Marin County wildflower ($40), from Heidrun’s line of “terroir” meads, lately renamed Bee-yond. The idea here is to express the whole range of flowering plants in the local environment, via bees, in a glass. This is reminiscent of rich, dark clover honey on the nose. But the finish is dry, an unexpected delight.
Set in a greenhouse, the tasting room features a long bar made from bee boxes and Champagne riddling racks. While the estate flower garden is a work in progress, and best to visit in spring and early summer, a curly-leaved willow tree shrouds an enchanted sylvan hideaway for picnics. Buy a bottle and they’ll bring it to you in an ice bucket. Just make sure to pick up some local cheese on the way here.
On Sept. 22 Heidrun Meadery hosts “Bee, Experienced,” a flower-to-flute experience. Don beekeeping suits and then enjoy a tasting. $90.
11925 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station. Open daily, 11am–4pm; 5pm weekends. Tasting, $15–$20. Tours Saturday mornings. 415.663.9122.