Oh Honey, You Have to Try the Mead

Island Honey Wine Company opens in Wheatley River

Milk stout, legal shine, bagaco, hard cider—with each passing year, the hit list of local alcoholic beverages gets longer and longer in Prince Edward Island. And this year is no different. If sweet wine makes you weak in the knees, there’s a new inebriant to add to your tasting itinerary: mead from the brand-new Island Honey Wine Company.

When the diversification of revenue became an important next step for the viability of Charles and Laura Lipnicki’s mixed farm, the age-old process of fermenting and infusing honey to make mead was an obvious choice. After all, they’d been homebrewing the beverage for several years. This July, their mead winery, Island Honey Wine Company, will open in Wheatley River. From lavender to haskap and cyser to wildflower, the Lipnickis use the organic crops grown on their 56-acre farm, La Serena, to create flavours you will im-mead-iately fall in love with.

La Serena Farm is located in Wheatley River, PEI.//Photo Credit: Hanna Hameline

After leaving careers in Ontario five years ago to pursue farming as a livelihood, the Lipnickis have gradually learned about both the beauty and hardships of farming.

“It’s not easy being an organic farmer. One of the things we saw early on is how hard it is. There’s a romantic idea of organic growing and then there’s the reality that you have to be able to generate enough dollars to keep going,” said Charles Lipnicki.

“So we were looking at what would work for us. We started with haskap,” he said. “It’s hardy, early in season, has no natural enemies, and it’s a super fruit. But what do you do with it? It doesn’t ship well as a fresh fruit. And this [mead] felt like a really good fit. You’re not going to get rich doing this, but you’ll be able to support what you’re doing. You’ll be able to earn a living and do what you want to do, the way you want to do it,”

Referred to as a benchmark for the turn of nature to culture by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, mead is believed to predate agriculture and is considered the “ancestor of all fermented drinks.” With a simple recipe that includes water, yeast, and honey, perhaps the most challenging part of making mead is sustaining patience. With a fermentation timeline of one month to a lifetime, “mead gets better with age,” Laura Lipnicki said.

Eventually, the couple would like to use the honey from their own bees to produce their mead, but with five stainless steel vats holding up to 600 lbs of honey each, their production needs are a bit higher than the humble La Serena bee population can currently sustain.

Island Honey Wine Company’s headquarters.//Photo Credit: Hanna Hameline

The Lipnickis themselves are about as close to the certified organic production of honey as one can get without the sticker. With a stationary hive and several acres of certified organic crops, their bees are set up for organic feasting all growing season and they wouldn’t have it any other way. While the acres of lavender, haskaps, elderberries, apples, and mixed vegetables, along with La Serena’s sheep and chickens, are certified organic, the organic certification of bees and honey is an extremely stringent and, frankly, uncommon process to undertake, according to the Lipnickis. For now, then, their mead is being produced from honey that is not certified organic.

“We belong to the PEI Certified Organic Producers’ Cooperative simply to show the province our values, and so there is a measuring stick that can be referred to when someone asks the question ‘who or how many are the organic farmers?’,” said Charles Lipnicki. For the couple, an organic model of agriculture isn’t simply the absence of chemical sprays on a farm; rather, it is about adopting a system of food production that is sustainable and nourishing.

The words ‘organic sanctuary’ come to mind when walking the fields of La Serena. Rows of planted lavender meet a blooming grove of heirloom apple trees. A caterpillar tunnel fixed in front of a well-populated chicken coop readies dozens of plants for the garden. Woolly sheep walk the rows of haskap berry bushes, mowing and fertilizing the pasture as they go. And honey bees are housed in a small apiary on the edge of one field, buzzing around the property, bringing life and liquid gold to La Serena.

Photo Credit: Hanna Hameline

“It is our belief that there are great opportunities in practising organic and we hope that by being successful organic farmers we can inspire others to do the same. Someday PEI may truly become a green island,” said Charles Lipnicki.

With tours of the winery available seven days of the week in July and August and the new mead available for purchase at a retail store on-site, you may just find yourself among the lavender fields of La Serena with a glass of wildflower mead this summer.