Nectar of the Gods: Falcon Meadery
By Bobby Lee Lawrence
If you’re a fan of mead wine, you may already be familiar with the two musicians in Santa Fe who have turned mead winemaking into a symphony. Darragh Nagle and Stephen Guthrie, the owners of Falcon Meadery, have hit all the high notes in the creation of their award winning flagship wine, Mountain Mead. It took ten years for Darragh, a former computer programmer, to decide to make mead wine. He started brewing it at home and has turned it into a thriving business. Both men are pleasant, unassuming, and casual. They discovered that they like the same type of music and eventually became friends and business partners. Playing along with my musical theme, Falcon Meadery also produces a “medley” of fruit-added meads named Melomel. The fruits range from strawberry to dry peach. Falcon captured four medals at the 2007 New Mexico State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Mountain Mead was the winner of the silver medal and Blackberry Mead, Strawberry Mead and Cherry Mead each won a bronze.
Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves; a little history of mead wine might be in order. Never heard of mead wine? It’s only been around for thousands of years, pre-dating grape wine. Legend has it that it was first discovered when rainwater mixed with honey and naturally occurring yeast (causing it to ferment) might possibly have been consumed by early man who delighted in how good it made him feel. Mead is a long story between men and gods, Greeks, Celts, Vikings, Hindus, etc., as well as bees and birds. Some of the earliest descriptions of mead can be found in the sacred books of the Vedic religion, written approximately 1700 BC. From that early beginning, mead was produced all over the world. The history of mead throughout the ages has roots in religion, royalty, sex, and even violence. There are tales of Norsemen toasting one another with mead consumed from the skulls of those they had slain. Gods fed mead to goddesses to reduce resistance to their advances, allowing them to take full advantage of their physical pleasures. A well known tradition in Central Europe was to give a newly married couple an endless supply of the brew for a month to ensure happiness and fertility; some believe that the term “honeymoon” is derived from this practice. With a drink that has been around for so long, there is no end to the tales and legends.
Mead wines can be made in many varieties. They can contain spices, such as nutmeg or cloves, herbs such as lavender or oregano, or various fruits. Some remain as sweet as the original honey and can even be served as dessert wines. There are Champagne-like sparkling meads, and those that come in varying degrees of dryness. Sounds similar to the process used in making grape wine, doesn’t it? While mead winemaking is a little less complicated, like grape wine it can be made dry or sweet at will. The basic ingredients are simply honey, water and yeast; known as “must.” Not unlike grape wine making, the yeast converts the sugars to alcohol over time; this process is called fermentation, a conversion that can take from seven months to one year. Adjusting the amount of yeast and honey, or the type of yeast and honey, helps produce the many variations of mead wine. Names like Sack Mead (a sweeter mead with more honey), Acerglyn, (containing maple syrup), and one of my favorites, T’ej (the national drink of Ethiopia) which has hops added (like beer), resulting in a unique taste are but a few you can enjoy.
Mead’s popularity is currently on the rise throughout the world and, with continued education and marketing, will someday fill the shelves of many retail outlets. As more and more New Mexicans become familiar with mead wine and how it pairs with our spicy local cuisine, sales will rise here as well. I can tell you that as a child growing up in a household with parents and relatives from Great Britain, my first encounter with mead wine was as a holiday drink infused with fruit and spices. I remember my mother pulling a hot poker from the fireplace and plunging it into the wine to warm it. We all watched in excitement because it was the only alcoholic drink we were ever allowed.
During my visit to Falcon Meadery, I had an opportunity to discuss with Darragh and Stephen an issue that has been in the news lately; that is the apparent growing disappearance of honey bees, referred to as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). It’s a problem that has many apiarists (those who keep and study bees) and entomologists (those who study insects) very concerned. No one is quite sure of the cause at this point; there have been as many theories as there are hives. Some scientists think it’s related to damage of the bees’ immune system caused by spraying for dangerous pests. Darragh says that Falcon gets its honey from bees that pollinate the wildflowers in Northern New Mexico and, so far, they remain unaffected and healthy. Because honey is the main product in mead production, it’s a very important issue for Falcon Meadery. Darragh and Stephen have their own theory on the bees’ disappearance; Darragh feels that one of the causes is the increase of genetically modified plants; this has changed what the bees (who have been around for millions of years) are pollinating. Although there is no proof of this, Pete Seeger once said in a song, “Where have all the flowers gone?” Note that his ending is “When will they ever learn?”
Now that I have shared all the information I have on mead wine with you, I know you can’t wait to purchase some and enjoy, as I have, the Nectar of the Gods. Mead wines can be purchased at Falcon Meadery, located in Santa Fe at 1572 Center Drive, Suite E. Center drive runs between Airport Road and Camino Entrada. The phone number is 505-471-3432. Please note the hours are Monday to Friday from 10 to Noon and 1 to 3pm. You can make an appointment to visit on weekends by calling the number listed above.
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If you live outside the Santa Fe area and wish to purchase Falcon mead wine, check on Falcon’s web site; www.falconmead.com and click on the link, where to purchase Falcon mead. You can also contact Boutique Wines of New Mexico at 505-471-1757, or request your local wine shop or liquor store to order it for you. You won’t be disappointed!