Wye Valley Meadery began life three years ago when beekeeper Matt Newell and his brother Kit began making mead in Matt’s garage. “Mead is thought of as the drink of Vikings or monks,” says Kit in their new premises which opens at weekends as a bar and pizzeria. “We’re doing something different, giving mead a buzz.” One mead origin myth is that when monks washed beeswax – which they harvested to make candles – the honey-tainted dishwater fermented. Some of today’s monks – in one of the best-known monasteries – “cheat” and take a short-cut, making a ‘bathtub’ version with neat ethanol mixed with honey-water, says Kit. Meanwhile, these young blood brothers brew their amber nectar the traditional way, using honey from Matt’s 150 hives dotted around Monmouthshire, including some on the turrets of neighbouring 11th-century Caldicot Castle. Breaking with tradition, they’ve livened mead up with sparkling versions flavoured with fruits, or, my favourite (and a Great Taste award winner), hops.
Among the large stainless steel fermenters and a mash tun – for beer brewing – are demi-johns with liquid of various honey hues, the fermenting results of afternoon mead making workshops. “You can add traditional herbs such as meadowsweet or hawthorn and make it as strong or weak as you like,” says Kit. An afternoon’s mead-making costs £60 per person including 4.5 litres of mead to take home once it’s ready. Another great Christmas gift idea.
On my last morning, miraculously the sun shone again, so I rode the e-bike out to White Castle Vineyard, seven miles east of Abergavenny, through more rolling hills, for a £15 tour and tasting. This seven-acre vineyard with 7,000 vines made national headlines earlier this year when one of its red wines, its 2018 pinot noir, won a gold Decanter award, only the third red in British wine-making history to achieve such an accolade. “It’s really put us on the wine-making map,” says Robb Merchant, co-owner of the vineyard with wife Nicola. The day the news broke, their website crashed – and they sold out within 36 hours.