Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blacksnake Meadery

While attending FloydFest in southwest Virginia I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a few wineries and the first on my list was Blakesnake Meadery. The meadery had assisted us in an early article on Honey Wine and Colony Collapse Disorder so I wanted to pay our respects. Fortunately we called ahead and learned the owners, Steve and Joanne Villers, were also attending FloydFest, but they graciously arranged an early morning appointment. The couple started the meadery a few years ago as an excuse to spend more time in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Steve had many years experience home brewing beer – but a brewery was not commercially viable – neither a traditional vineyard. The next alternative: honey wine. They researched the process, purchased hives and started storing honey; all the while, keeping their 9-5 jobs a hundred miles away in Roanoke. On weekends they returned to the meadery to monitor the bees, ferment the honey, bottle the mead, and every other task required for a family operated business. Slowly the business grew to where today they possess 16 hives that produce close to 800 pounds of honey. Since approximately 2 lbs of honey is required for each bottle of honey wine – that’s about 30 cases worth. To increase their stock, they purchase varietal honey such as Tupelo and Sourwood. But their local honey should be excellent; the country roads leading to Blakesnake are lined with miles of wild flowers in which the bees feed.

When I arrived the Villers were waiting on their porch with their four current offerings ready: Sourwood Honey Wine, Bee Brew with Hops, Sweet Virginia and Meloluna. Blacksnake Meadery is located too far north for Sourwood trees to grow – but sourwood honey is a popular southern varietal available in neighboring Patrick County. As its name implies, it is a little sour and the wine is made bone dry at 0% r.s. Initially I was unsure whether I liked it, but slowly it has grown on me. Sometimes I cheat and add a little Barenjager; but alone – it reminds me a little like a hefeweisen, which leads into the next offering: the Bee Brew with Hops. Immediately this was my favorite – refreshing and clean. The concoction is made by boiling their wildflower honey with cascade hops and adding a small amount of carbonation from bottle conditioning. The result: refreshing pale ale. The aroma is awesome – pure hops. This may become the alcohol of choice after mowing the grass. And with the goal of being self sufficient, the Villers planted hops which snakes across their porch – adding more charm to their meadery. Next was the Sweet Virginia, made in the traditional mead style and diluted with mountain well water. This is a perfect mead – pure honey flavors and aroma – and not gritty sweet at 6% r.s. It also pairs well with food – we tried it with burgers and chicken – but the meadery recommends game. No matter – it’s good. Finally Blacksnake produces a dessert style mead at 12% r.s. – the Meloluna. This is great alternative to the pricey late harvest or ice wines and since it’s made in the same fashion at the Sweet Virginia, it’s the same wine – just sweeter.

Regrettably Blacksnake Meadery is isolated from major population centers, but for those travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway, the meadery is only a short detour. Blacksnake is also a member of the Blue Ridge Wine Trail so Blacksnake can be included in any tour of the local wineries and cider mills. We look forward to our next visit to Floyd – to listen to excellent music with mead. Thanks Jo and Steve.
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