Make Way for Organic Mead Wine: How the San Francisco Mead Company is Paving the Way

Artisan Mead Wine

When it comes to favorites among homebrewers, beer might have some stiff competition. Homebrewers of the past focused mainly on brewing ales and stouts, but that’s no longer the case. More and more homebrewers are now trying their hand at brewing meads and wines. That’s how Sarah Benary and her husband Oron, of The San Francisco Mead Company, discovered their passion – a passion for reviving artisanal mead wine that Californians can’t stop talking about.

Q: Can you give our readers a little background on the San Francisco Mead Company? How did it started and who’s behind it?

Sarah Benary: The San Francisco Mead Company was started in 2012 by husband and wife team, Oron and Sarah Benary. The SFMC is our second effort in the world of mead, having opened Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus, Ohio in 2010. Our “big picture dream” has always been to create a product that can be produced and consumed locally and to challenge the idea of what it means to grow a sustainable business by expanding in new markets with new production facilities, local raw materials, and local labor. Mead happened to present itself as the perfect partner in that effort – you can find local honey almost everywhere and it seemed like a fun industry to work in while trying to make a small change in local economies.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the decision of focusing on organic meads as opposed to working with “standard” (non-organic) ingredients?

SB: Our honey is not ‘certified’ organic because it is impossible to find a strictly organic area that is larger than the honey bee’s flying radius of about seven miles.  This in itself is a sad fact – so supporting farmers and industry that is doing the most it can to further organic and sustainably practices is something that we have always put at the top of our priority list when buying raw materials.  We purchase as locally and organic as possible. Honey, being our main ingredient, is something we work closely with our suppliers with to ensure that it is being harvested from areas that are organically farmed. Just as importantly,  it’s higher quality and tastes better!

Q: What type of ingredients do you work with? Anything unusual or new you are experimenting with?

SB: We are also focusing on incorporating more local produce like Gravenstien Apples from Sonoma County and adding a twist by partnering with local wineries such as Chateau Montelena to age in wine barrels.  Our blackberry mead will be aged in pinot wine barrels.  We’ll also be brewing small batches of hopped mead that will be available only at the meadery.

Q: While small beer breweries have been popular for a while, meads seem to be enjoying a “rebirth” of sorts. Why do you think that is?

SB: Of course, people are always looking for something new to them, but I think even more so, it’s just exciting for brewers to work with an unlimited pallet of flavors and combinations. Mead doesn’t have any of the stylistic restrictions that wine has but still can achieve the same level of quality and nuance in flavor.

Q: You recently launched an Apple Pie Mead. Would you mind sharing how it’s made and what makes it so special?

SB: We use a blend of organic apples from Sonoma and blend the fresh cider with honey from the Mendocino forest.  We spice it with organic cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. We ferment with a wine yeast, which helps us achieve the 13 – 14% alcohol. We age the cyser for about a year in stainless tanks. Before bottling, we fine and filter the mead, similar to how a wine is processed, but we do not add sulfites, which we believe is a big part of why the subtleties of the honey and cider flavors are preserved.

Q: What other meads do you make?

SB: We have two traditional style meads (just fermented honey and water),  California Gold from Mendocino forest honey and Orange Blossom from central valley organic orange groves.

Q: Any plans for the near future?

SB: We have a blackberry melomel, a Gravenstein Cyser, hopped mead and coffee mead in the works – as well as some of our special barrel-aged meads that will be available in the first half of 2015.

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Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website dianabocco.com.

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