When serendipity—that happy mixture of accident and sagacity—visited Live Vine Winery, winemaker Shawn Smith added cider- and mead-making. Shawn and his wife Susan came to produce Live Vine wines recently: It was only 2017 that tipplers traveling Sierra Oro Farm Trail weekend tasted the winery’s first wines. Two seasons later, Shawn is also bottling SmithHouse cider, two types, sweet and dry, and meads.
The serendipity happened like so: in the fall, when Shawn racked Live Vine wines into barrels, he was troubled by the stainless steel tanks left empty from September on. It wasn’t just the waste of tanks sitting empty—the darn things also took up so much floor space in his small winery. Smith decided to make use of both tanks and floor space by fermenting apple cider from Oregon apples, a seasonal fit for the time of the year when wine moved to barrels. A second serendipitous event led Smith to begin producing mead, a fermentation resulting when yeasts devour honey: a chat with his neighbor revealed a source of honey; the neighbor is a beekeeper.
Tasting with the Smiths—the tasting room is open on weekends—earns an education in mead, with Shawn a font of historical context and mead knowledge, including lots of esoteric M nomenclature. There are mead itself, a fermentation of honey and water; melomel, a mead with fruit added to the honey water (and a subset, cyser, the term used when the fruit is apples); and metheglin, a mead flavored with herbs and spices.
All of which will be available at Live Vine Winery, during a special event the Smiths have dubbed the Mead Bench Trial. Tasters at Live Vine Winery sample various meads and rank them. The sampling costs a $20 investment, which includes nachos, and Shawn will use tasters’ rankings to help determine which of the alcohols to produce in greater quantity.
Shawn anticipates tasting a lineup of several different ferments. These are:
- Hopped Up Viking, made from Cascade hops and alfalfa honey
- The Nomad, made from Columbus hops and knapweed honey
- A holiday spice mead (a metheglin)
- A green tea mead (a metheglin)
- A black tea mead (ditto)
- A lemon melomel
- A peach melomel
- A cherry/apple cider, along with their signature Sweet and Dry hard ciders
- A Live Vine wine made with agave
As of press time, the Smiths were awaiting the finish of fermentation to schedule the Mead Bench Trial. Check Live Vine Facebook page (@livevine) for the Smiths’ announcement of the date. Or visit the winery any weekend and choose from wine, cider, and mead.
LIVE VINE VINEYARD & WINERY
652 Luds Way Oroville
Tastings Saturdays & Sundays, noon-5pm
Edible Shasta-Butte is the guide to local food, dining, and gardening in Northern California’s central valley from Butte County north to the Oregon border.