Judith Barta whipped up her first batch of honey mead in her kitchen about 10 years ago. Just for fun. She recently came upon some remnants of that batch – properly sealed and stored, naturally – and was pleased with the way it stood up over the years. Of course it can’t compare with what she’s producing now, under the label of Meadow Vista Honey Wines – a new venture using an ancient recipe for wine – but it was a good start.
Meadow Vista was launched about a year ago, and released its first batch of honey wine in Alberta in February. Sales in B.C. started last month, and there are already deals being wheeled in China, where Judith attended Shanghai’s Expo 2010.
“The enthusiasm is awesome,” Judith told The Pear Tree. “It’s elating.”
The history and mythology of honey mead or honey wine is heady. Predating the invention of beer by about 2,000 years, its legend has distilled into something almost magical. It was once considered to be the nectar of the gods, and inspired the term “honeymoon” because of the tradition of giving a bride lots of it the first month (or moon) of her marriage in order to promote fertility. The references to it in literature are myriad, but some of the more notable ones include Canterbury Tales, Beowolf and, more recently, Lord of the Rings.
For those familiar with the fermented honey drink, Celtic and Medieval visions are likely to spring to mind. And while that tradition is appealing to some on a novelty level, Judith would like to see the drink be enjoyed as a contemporary beverage, for modern reasons.
“I want to bring back a more natural, clean way to be part of our foodie community,” she said.
The “Queen Bee” of Meadow Vista Honey Wines, Judith has a background in both wellness and business. She’s started and sold a number of businesses in the past, but thinks of this one as the grand finish, or “The Big One.”
Like the image she wants for her wine, Judith tries to keep her work life clean and uncluttered.
“I like the idea of being grounded and taking a deep breath – of working hard and then standing back to say ‘I did this and I accomplished this.’”
She’s also made it her mandate to be a boss and business person who always cares. One of the things she cares about is, not surprisingly, honey, and the well-documented demise of the honey bee. To promote awareness and education, there is a segment of her business called Green Bee, which offers information and suggestions of ways to help.
A proponent of Slow Food and a self-described “eco foodie,” Judith said she likes to know where her food came from and the process it went through to get to her table.
She likes that honey wine is void of sulfites, since honey is the only food that’s not perishable.
The honey wine ingredient list is a simple one. At its most basic, it’s water, honey and yeast. The difference in varietals comes from the winemaker’s creative use of yeast types, honey flavours and added spices and flavours.
Meadow Vista’s premier release, 2009, included four honey wines: Joy, Cloud Horse, Mabon and Libra.
They vary from dessert wine to sparkling wine and table wine, and while they taste alcoholic in nature they taste quite different from grape wine.
Judith describes Cloud Horse thusly: “Take a spoonful of honey, take away the sweetness and what are you left with? The clover blossoms and the bees wax, which is what gives it its dryness.”
Libra she describes as light and sweet, Mabon as warm and spicy and Joy as crisp, elegant and sparkling.
The release of Joy makes Meadow Vista Canada’s first sparkling organic honey wine producer. For it, Judith uses la méthode traditionelle, where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
“It’s like nothing you’ve had before. When people say they don’t like champagne, they usually like this. It’s refreshing. It’s not like putting a spoon of honey in your mouth.”
There are only three other existing meaderies in the province, but Meadow Vista is the first in the Okanagan, and the only one in B.C. that is currently organic.
In addition to the honey wine, Judith is already working (with Chef Michael Lyon) on a culinary line that includes salad dressings, mustard and a sweet, salty, rich chocolate called Honey Dreams. All will be available online later this summer, along with fresh honey, candles and t-shirts. They’re also available at area farmers markets on Saturdays. Down the road, she also plans to make grape wine and cider.
– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier
* Thank you to the Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm for the use of your scenery!