WHO SAYS studying English literature can’t lead to a job? For Denice Ingalls, winemaker at Redmond’s new Sky River Mead, college literature classes led to a career making award-winning mead, or honey wine.
Ingalls, who majored in economics but took English literature classes for fun, was working for a honey packing business when she got the mead-making bug.
“I remembered reading about this stuff in my English lit classes,” she said.
Her wines have earned dozens of medals since 2000, including Gold and Best in Class in the 2011 West Coast Wine Competition. The meadery, which recently relocated from Sultan, held its grand opening the weekend of May 19 at its new spot, 14270 Woodinville-Redmond Road.
While Ingalls makes mead, her sister, Glenda Downs, handles sales and marketing. Downs, who has worked in the tourism and restaurant industries, is also an artist (she designed two of the bottle labels) and a beekeeper. Visitors can see one demonstration hive now, and she plans to add more. Honey bees, she assures visitors, “are really docile.”
Although mead is often associated with beer, it’s actually wine. Instead of grapes, it’s made with honey, to which water, wine-maker’s yeast, and sometimes fruit or spices are added. The mixture then ferments, converting the sugars to alcohol, just like wine.
The meadery uses Washington state honey, mostly from the Skagit Valley. Ingalls blends the honeys, starting with a clover base and adding varying amounts of other flavors, such as alfalfa, sage, blackberry or raspberry.
Historically, mead was boiled to kill the wild yeasts that caused unpredictable flavors. The result was a darker, sweeter brew resembling a stout beer. In lieu of boiling, Sky River filters out the wild yeast, creating a clear beverage that looks and tastes more like wine.
“This is not the way King Arthur drank his mead,” Ingalls said, “but when’s the last time you had a leg of mutton for dinner? Mead has changed, but so has food. We’re trying to build wines that fit with the way we eat and drink today, so the mead-making art isn’t lost.”
Sky River sells sweet and semi-sweet mead, but it also makes a dry one. Additional offerings include raspberry, blackberry and two new flavors coming out soon—Chai Spice (think mulled wine) and Solas, aged in whiskey barrels.
Ingalls attributes part of her success to open-minded locals. “If there’s anywhere in the world you can introduce a new beverage, it’s Seattle,” she said with a smile.
Downs also credits the growing popularity of other craft beverages.
“With cider and microbrews, people are getting more adventurous with tasting,” said Downs, adding, “It’s a fun product to introduce to people.”
Honey wines go well with many highly-seasoned ethnic foods, including Asian and Mexican, Ingalls said.
“Tannins fight with those flavors," she said. "One of the great things about meads is that they’re not tannic, so they work where sometimes grape wines struggle.” For example, she said, “honey and lime are beautiful together.”
Besides appealing to wine drinkers, Downs says Mead is also popular among those who prefer beer.
“If people don’t like wine, it’s probably that they don’t like tannins,” Ingalls adds.
The sisters, who were raised in Woodinville, chose the Redmond location because it’s near the winery district, but also because it’s halfway between Ingalls’ home in Snohomish and Downs’ home in Burien.
The tasting room has a panoramic view of the Sammamish Valley and will feature monthly art rotations and holiday events. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, with additional times and tours by appointment. You will also find the meadery at the next month.