Sky River Meadery started on the foothills of Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountain Range and now calls the Sammamish Valley/Woodinville area home. I recently brought my friend Tiffany with me to Sky River Meadery to interview owners/sisters Glenda Downs and Denice Ingalls. We spent the afternoon tasting the sweet nectar and getting a crash course in mead versus wine (it’s fascinating to say the least).
Sky River Meadery is the only meadery in Woodinville. The beautiful building itself overlooks the hills of Washington and is filled with bottles and local artisan products. They are dog-friendly and have outdoor chess and music in the summertime. I definitely plan on bringing friends by for a summer evening to drink mead and enjoy some music while sitting next to their newly built outdoor fire place.
Glenda and Denice grew up in Woodinville. Denice attended college at Pepperdine University where she earned a BA in Economics. Glenda attended Western Washington University and earned her BA in Non-Profit Administration and Fine Arts.
Denice stepped into winemaking in a very roundabout way. She started off by working with honey as an ingredient for craftsman breads and microbreweries before recalling memories of Mead (also known as honey wine) in English literature. In 1997, Sky River was bonded and the first bottle was debuted in 1999. For the past 20 years, Denice has selected the honeys used in the meads, works with the wines as they ferment, collaborates on packaging, oversees the mountains of paperwork, and enjoys working with customers and teaching them about mead.
Glenda came to Sky River Mead after working in the floral and restaurant industries as well as marketing for Seattle tourism. Introduced to mead by Denice, Glenda is now responsible for sales and marketing, social media, the website and the tasting room. She also maintains the display hives and gardens. With a background in watercolor art, Glenda also designed many of the artworks featured on the mead bottles (and they are both intricate and beautiful).
Tiffany and I learned a lot in a short time about the differences between the wine industry and the mead industry – including the different federal laws each industry has to abide by.
What is the difference between mead and wine? Mead is made of honey, yeast and water and a true mead has no added sugar or tannin. Wine is made of grapes, yeast, and sometimes water and sugar. Because mead is referred to as a honey wine, it can be confusing. You can add honey to a grape wine, but that doesn’t make it mead. Mead is also often thought of as one of the oldest forms of fermented drinks, with references dating back thousands of years in ancient times.
From bees to bottle, Sky River works with 15 local beekeepers who collect and harvest the honey. The raw honey is then shipped in 55 gallon barrels. The honey is then filtered to remove bee parts, wax, etc before it is blended with warm water. It is then inoculated with a proprietary blend of wine yeast, where the magic occurs. Sky River juices the fruits they add to certain bottles and adds them at the beginning of fermentation. After a one year process, the bottling truck comes in. Bottles are purged, sterilized, filled with wine and then bottled.
Did you know that according to the the IRS, mead/honey wine is classified under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as an “agricultural wine?” Agricultural wine is made from the fermentation of an agricultural product other than the juice of fruit. This does not allow for the use of coloring or flavoring materials (other than hops) in standard honey wine. Furthermore, wine spirits may not be added to standard honey wine, and standard honey wine may not contain more than 14 percent alcohol by volume. This is one of many interesting facts about federal law regarding mead.
Their wine club, cleverly named The ImMEADiate Gratification Club ships to 36 states and is like a loyalty program, giving its members first tastes of new products.
Taste testing is always the best part about visiting a place like Sky River Meadery. Glenda went through a few of their selections with us. The Dry Mead is sort of like a gateway mead for those who enjoy a dry white wine. Try a dry mead, you may never go back to white wine! The Solas Honey Wine is aged in a DryFly Whiskey Barrel (based out of Spokane). Solas was so rich and creamy, I had to buy a bottle for myself. The Rose Honey Wine (not rose’ like the wine blend, but literally rose like the flower) smells like a bouquet of roses and tastes both delicate and earthy. Sky River rotates roses into the batch for 5 weeks during the fermentation process. I bought a bottle of the Rose as well and as of this writing, the bottle is already empty.
Glenda also mentioned a few mead food pairings to try:
Dry, semi-sweet: Seafood
Sweet: Pork, chicken and spicy food
Raspberry mead: Red curry
I highly recommend going to Sky River Meadery and opening up your palate to mead/honey wine if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.
Sky River Meadery
14270 Woodinville-Redmond Rd NE
Redmond, WA 98052
Ph. (425) 242-3815