Friday, February 28, 2014

Helderberg Meadworks - Meet the Meadmaker (NY)

So I've met Peter Voelker several times over the last year. And had his mead several times. Each time it has been a bit of a revelation. I had occasion to try his mead at the first annual Hudson Berkshire Wine and Food Festival 2013. He had a great weekend and sold a lot of mead. But his mead is not inexpensive, and I was surprised. But I should not have been. Because Peter is very serious about mead. And he's very serious about making good mead.
So, I was racing around doing errands, and recently stopped in at Fairview Liquors in Hudson, NY to visit Peter when he cam eup to do a tasting by me. And they had a wonderful sign outside the store that read, Meet The Meadmaker. No that's cool. And of course, so I did.
Helderberg Meadworks is one of the newest wineries in the Hudson Valley outside the Capital region. They launched in November 2012. It is located in the Helderberg Mountains where fresh water and local honey are used to create the finest mead. Helderberg Meadworks is one of a precious few “meaderies” in the state who only produce mead. Owner and meadmaker Peter Voelker has been making a variety of meads for many years. In 2010 he decided to open the meadery with his wife Kirsten to share what he considers the best mead in the country. 

Heritage Mead is a traditional mead made only from the fermentation of local New York State raw honey and oak aged as you would have expected the old Norse to have done. They allow the yeast to ferment naturally, without stopping or altering the process to tailor the flavor. This results in a stronger mead that has a certain rawness to it, while having just enough honey sweetness to smooth and balance the flavor. As oak vessels were used to store beverages many centuries ago, they        impart the oak vessel flavor in a modern way.

Their philosophy is to create a mead that is as close as possible to mead that may very well have been made hundreds, and even thousands of years ago, while using modern equipment and methods. They use minimal sulfites and minimal production handling. This means that each batch is unique. Every harvest of local honey is different, so every batch will taste a bit different. In order to differentiate batches for their customers, they use a different color wax top. That serves as their equivalent of a wine's vintage year.       
In the past I had tasted and bought the Black Wax Heritage which was from the inaugural batch of Heritage from late 2012! It was on the higher side of the 15% to 16% ABV range with enough honey sweetness to balance the bite. And I did buy a bottle of Platinum Wax Heritage which came out in the spring of 2013. It was extremely smooth and tasty. Loved it!

Heritage is the name of their exemplar mead. Heritage ranges from 15% to 16% ABV. This is well above a common wine and mead, which usually ranges from 8% to 12%. It is strong!​ Burgundy Wax Heritage is the "vintage" currently available. According to their website, "The burgundy wax Heritage for autumn 2013 is shaping up to be our most bombastic Heritage yet. The ABV is very high (within the allowable range of course), the oak is more prominent and the honey sweetness is less than the platinum but still pronounced enough so that you taste the pure raw NY honey."
The cool thing about Helderberg is it's unabashed brazenness. They make mead. They make it the old fashioned way. It' big, bold, and as fresh and raw as it comes. It's of a place. There's no apologies. And I really, really like it. It absolutely appeals to the wine geek deep within me. The stuff is good. Not too sweet, and the oak aging add a whole different kind of flavor to this elixir. And Peter is a man obsessed. He's one of those guys who has turned a small beverage into an art.
According to Peter, "I've been asked many times what Heritage tastes like.​ ​It can probably be best described as a golden, oaked honey port. Even a little sherry-like. It still has some rawness to it, since I have not read in any of my studies that the Vikings had wine cellars to condition their mead or chemicals that some modern wineries use to stop fermentation."
Peter has said that one of the most interesting things about his mead is that people approach it more like scotch or bourbon. They like it in a glass with some ice. I prefer it this way as well. Of course, it goes well with a hearty meal or even hot with mulling spices on a cold winter day.  

Another label Helderberg makes is Apple Mead. In their efforts to remain local with their roots, what better way to herald "apple country" than to produce an Apple Mead (cyser, for those curious about the technical term). This seasonal mead begins life with the same amazing raw NY honey that is used to craft Heritage. According to Peter, "We then had Indian Ladder Farms press a custom blend of apples for us exclusively for this mead. We have decided to leave it cloudy because when you clarify it, you remove much of the character that is brought to the mead from the apples themselves." This was absolutely my favorite. Hands down. The cloudy part did not bother me a all. The taste was fresh baked apple with some honey and a hint of alcohol. Fantastic! I absolutely fell in love with it. One of my new favorite drinks instantly!!!Did I say I loved it?
So, I owe Peter an apology. I should have written this at least 6 months ago! I hope apology is accepted. Also, I owe my friends an apology. I should have recommended it to them more than 6 months ago...and they might have been drinking it sooner.
You gotta try this stuff!