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Meaditations

24 February 2008

Okay, so it’s been more than a day, but I’ve been busy in my life, and besides, I have much more to report now that you’ve patiently waited.
Some of you already know that I have been an amateur brewer and mead maker for a number of years now, having made small 5 or 10 gallon batches here and there to share with friends and family, toasting every winter holiday season with a little of my home made honey golden cheer. Well, this last summer I decided that I wanted to do a little more, and began in earnest to contemplate taking my mead professional. I found a honey provider that could sell to me premium honey in volume at a decent price, and bought 8 gallons (roughly 100 lbs of honey) and produced 40 gallons, or approximately 14 cases of mead. With this mead, I have been building a market amongst friends and acquaintances, and what’s more, I’ve entered judged events. In specific, the International Mead Festival Home Mead Maker Competition, of which I have since learned that in the category of Dry Mead, of my 4 entries, I won first, second and third place. It’s conceivable that I also won fourth place, but they didn’t report results beyond 3rd.
This I took to be a sign. Actually, the first thing I thought, honestly, that there was some sort of technological quirk or mistake in the results (it was reported on a web page), but after my self-doubt subsided, it bolstered my resolve to take my mead professional. Interestingly enough, my mind had been on the mead for several weeks, and I had made moves on two fronts that are important to disclose, as they lead to my current news.
The first front is that of Paul Kreider of Ross Valley Winery in San Anselmo, CA. Emily, my mother-in-law, and a business owner in San Anselmo has been aware of my mead-making endeavors, and having tasted my most recent successes, has been trying for months to get me to come in and talk with Paul, to see if there was anything that we might be able to share, but in the very least to make a contact who was a local wine producer. The week previous to learning about my results from the mead festival, I made the resolve to make a date with Emily to go in and introduce myself to Paul, and to see how it went. On the Thursday of that week (two weeks ago), on the date that Emily and I set to go talk to Paul, that morning I discovered the results of the contest. Armed with that knowledge, and two bottles of my best mead, I went in and introduced myself to Paul. I told Paul about my mead-making endeavors, and handed him a couple of bottles of my best mead (one dry blackberry, one semi-dry orange). Paul, without batting an eye offered to trade me two bottles of his own wine in return, to which I gratefully accepted. I was to learn later that Paul started off as a garage wine maker, and therefore understood the hard work that goes into making wines. I casually told Paul about my awards, and mentioned I was desiring to go professional, and to which he instantly replied that perhaps we could do something together, where I could produce mead under his bond and at his facilities, because he knew how hard it was to get started. This was something I was planning on talking to him about eventually, once I won him over, but he offered this as a possibility on his own accord, without even having tasted the mead. He’s been down this road before with a few other friend/wine-makers, so he’s familiar with the process, and this is fantastic for me. I leave him with the two bottles, and he told me that he’ll taste them and if he thinks he’s got a market (i.e. if they’re any good), that he’d let me know. Last Tuesday (about 4-5 days after I left him the mead), he calls and leaves a message on my machine. As it turns out, not only did he love the hell out of the mead, but the customers that he let taste the mead over the week also loved it, and he called me to let me know that he wanted to pursue matters further. In other words, he wants to play.
The other front is the honey provider from whom I procured the honey for my latest batch, John Gipson of Gipson’s Golden back in August of 2007. At that time, I ordered 100 lbs of honey from him, and let him know that I was a mead maker and wanted to start producing mead professionally. He got really excited about this, and told me that he’d be interested in selling it if I ever got it off the ground. I told him I’d bring him a couple of bottles of mead when it was ready, and left it at that. Well, wanting to keep to my word and also wanting to light a fire under John’s rear again, I dropped by a couple of weeks ago with my mead as promised. I left him with a few bottles, and we chatted about how he’s got tons of connections through the stores he distributes to, and how he could totally sell my mead in those locations, in the same way he’s also selling chocolates made from his honey from a provider in Reno. I tell him to taste it and to let me know what he thinks. Last Wednesday morning, (one day after the phone call from Paul), I get a call from John telling me that he totally loved it, was surprised and shocked at how good it was, and wanted to sell some in a ‘limited run’ to his connections, including Oliver’s Market, of whom he knows the owner, and they said they’d be willing to showcase my mead. To John, a limited run is 50-60 cases, just as a ‘test’. to the layman, 60 cases is 720 bottles, or roughly 150 gallons of mead. Considering the largest batch I’ve produced to date is 40 gallons, this would mean ramping up my production almost 400%. But, the Universe hates a coward, and I will rise to this challenge. If I can get him to commit to a purchase, I will most certainly make his limited run a reality, with possibilities for more on the uptake.
Last Thursday I came down to meet with Paul again and to look at his operation. I think it’s gonna work out great for us. He’s only thinking of a starting capacity of 40 gallons or so for the first batch, but I’m going to push him to allow me to make 200 gallons on his premises. I might have to buy some fermentation tanks if Paul doesn’t have them to spare, but I will make it happen. Paul is an awesome guy, with lots of grass-roots experience, a laid-back style, and a talent for making excellent wine (I’ve tasted it.) I meet with him and his business manager on Tuesday, to go over particulars and to figure out what we need to do in order to work together. We’ll draw up an agreement letter covering what we want to get out of the deal on both sides, and if all works out well, I could be producing mead as soon as the next couple of weeks, which once bottled and labeled, will be legally sold.
So, I am left with a ton of work to do to get things prepared, from label design and approval to DBA’s to sales tax accounts, et cetera. The good news is, what I thought would be a retirement endeavor, or at least an activity put off for the next couple of years, turns out to be something I get to start right now. I’ll keep you all posted on the status and progress of Beowulf meads (Trademark pending).

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