What’s the buzz?: Bill Martin stands
near bee hives at his family’s Montezuma Winery; three varieties of
their honey of a drink are from left, Plum Passion, sparkling honey and
semi-sweet. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
As they are the only purveyor of mead in
the region, Montezuma Winery, 2981 Auburn Road, Seneca Falls
(568-8190), is the place to sample or pick up a bottle of the sweet
stuff. And through Aug. 17, Montezuma’s mead will be sold by the glass
or bottle at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, 15385 Farden Road,
Sterling, close to where all their honey business began.
“We started selling wine commercially in
2000 and were known as Martin’s Honey Farm and Meadery,” says Bill
Martin, who along with his father George, mother Ginny and brother Ed,
owns Montezuma Winery. “We weren’t able to keep up with demand in
Sterling so we decided to close that location and moved in 2001 to more
of what you’d think of as wine country. We are now the only ones on the
trail, as well as in the area for that matter, that produce mead, and
we’ve had a lot of good response here so far.”
Martin describes the taste of mead as
being a “sweeter white wine.” If a bottle of it was set next to a
bottle of Riesling, both without labels, you might as well be
blindfolded trying to distinguish them apart as they are strikingly
similar in tone. “It has a very similar character as red or white wine,
but obviously with a more pronounced honey flavor,” continues Martin.
“And like reds or whites, mead comes in several varieties.”
Montezuma Winery bottles three
traditional meads at $10.99 each: dry, semisweet and sweet. For those
that add a shot of honey to spruce up a cup of hot tea, you’re well
aware of the saccharine spike just a spoonful is capable of.
Three-quarters of a pint of honey—approximately 426 milliliters—is used
in the production of every individual 750-milliliter bottle of mead;
that’s more than 50 percent honey. Taking that into account, get ready
for honeyed hysterics, pun intended, when walking out of there with a
bottle of the sweet; for something subtler, walk away with the dry.
There was no label on the clay to
identify it as such, but 9,000-year-old pottery has been found in China
holding residue of a beverage containing rice, grapes and honey—the
oldest evidence of a mead-like drink on record. The mead moniker didn’t
become popular nomenclature until much later when the likes of
Aristotle, Socrates and Plato made repeated references to it—while
probably taking repeated sips of it—within their dialogues.
Skipping a few literary eras, mead was
the drink of choice among the main characters in the anonymously
authored 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf,
which in 2007, was adapted into a film that starred Angelina
Jolie—quite possibly mead’s most succulent, ahem, pairing to date. Mead
was also said to have been the drink of choice of the Knights of the
Round Table in Arthurian literature. Since then, mead has been a Norma
Desmond-like libation, always ready for its next “close-up.” Montezuma
Winery’s lead-casting of mead will certainly help spark a revival.
“Times have changed since we first
started,” says Martin. “When we were first bottling it, no one had
heard of it. Now it seems as though more than half of the people that
come in are aware of it and the ones that aren’t, we’ll explain its
difference from traditional reds and whites to them and hopefully
they’ll help spread the word.”
The traditional method of producing mead
is to boil water and honey together before initiating the fermentation
process. Martin chooses to brew it by using an ultrafiltration system,
which he says, “produces a mead that’s truer to the honey.” After four
months cycling through this osmotic procedure, the mead is ready for
bottling, while the traditional boiling method takes 18 months to age.
Still, Martin notes, after ultrafiltration, he prefers to age each
bottle close to a year so as to maximize taste.
A variety of fruit-infused meads is also
available. Succulent complements abound in their bottles of cherry
melomel ($10.99), raspberry melomel ($12.99) and plum passion ($9.99).
While the taste of honey is diluted a tad in these, those that enjoy
just a hint of it and find the taste of any of those fruits more
appealing will have a hard time turning back after a sampling.
“Just as different varieties of reds or
whites pair well with certain foods, our varieties of meads do just the
same,” says Martin. “I never have sushi without a glass of our
sparkling mead, which is my personal favorite of all of the meads we
produce.” The sparkling mead, priced at $13.99 and rounding out their
selection, is a carbonated honey wine with rich tones that leave a
lingering honey finish on the palate.
Martin didn’t have to stray too far from
his roots in his pursuit of honey-ness. His father began keeping bees
as a hobby in the late 1970s and started selling honey and beeswax
products commercially at the Sterling farm before moving to Seneca
Falls. In 1995, Martin began experimenting with different recipes while
producing homebrewed mead. Five years later, he had created a blend he
thought worthy enough to be sold commercially, which is the “sweet”
mead that still lines their shelves. A year later, they were on the
These days, the Martins are resting on
their honey laurels. Although at one time they produced only honey,
after the move to Seneca Falls, they began purchasing the honey used to
produce their mead from a few different area beekeepers so they could
focus solely on producing wine. Aside from mead, Montezuma Winery also
produces more than 10 varieties of fruit wine such as blueberry and
apple, as well as six whites and six reds of different types. All can
be sampled for $1 and, if one strikes your fancy, can be purchased by
the bottle in their gift shop.
Montezuma Winery is open daily, 9 a.m.
to 6 p.m.; reservations are required for groups of 12 or more. Also,
the winery takes the show on the road every Wednesday through
mid-October and sets up shop from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for wine tasting and
bottle selling at the Seneca Falls Farmers’ Market in People’s Park on
Water Street in Seneca Falls.