White Winter Winery
By Jessica Luhning | Photo By Jim Klousia 0
This article is an accompaniment to Jessica’s “Edible Journey: Authentic Bayfield Peninsula” published in the Spring 2012 print edition of Edible Madison.
Sometimes a place grabs your attention so much that making the extra effort to stop there on your journey seems well worth the effort—or in this case, no effort since we were already nearby. White Winter Winery in Iron River, a beautiful 50 minute drive southwest of Bayfield, is Wisconsin’s largest commercial maker of the fruit and honey wine known as mead.
Jon Hamilton and his wife Kim have owned and managed White Winter Winery since 1996. Jon hails from a long lineage of migratory beekeepers and as an adult was drawn to beekeeping, home brewing and mead making. When Jon and his wife relocated to Iron River from Kenosha, his hobby became more serious. He soon found himself with 600 pounds of honey that needed an outlet—quickly. In November of 1996, White Winter Winery released their first product to a growing population of mead enthusiasts.
“Mead is a true expression of the land. Here in Wisconsin, our climate and soils produce outstanding fruit and honey. Growing grapes here that yield the higher quality wines of the west coast and overseas is more of a struggle, but we can make mead—great mead,” says Jon. I have always been curious about mead, and Jon’s words resonated with me. After spending the afternoon with Jon and Kim, I have found a new appreciation for mead as a delicious and truly local expression of our region.
The history of mead is quite fascinating, too. Mead is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage made with three simple ingredients—honey, water and yeast. Some recipes call for the addition of spices and fruit, creating what is known as a “melomel.” The most common fruits used are cherries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and currants. Mead was a common folk drink, but it was also considered the nectar of the gods on Mt. Olympus and the favored drink of poets, lovers and kings. Mead was consumed to seal verbal pacts in medieval times. And ever wonder where the term “Honeymoon” originated? This celebrated post-nuptial tradition comes from the ancient ritual of giving the newlywed couple a “moon’s” supply of “honey” in the form of mead to ensure a fruitful union—and the sweeter the mead the more “fruitful” the union.
Over 95 percent of the raw ingredients in White Winter Winery’s mead are sourced within 150 miles of the cellar. Their honey is from the Cable-Mason area of northern Wisconsin as well as New Auburn and Chippewa Falls. Jon relies on larger beekeepers because his demand for honey can vary from 10,000 to 25,000 pounds annually, depending on production.