by Grey McAlister
Oliver Winery in Bloomington, IN has been making wine for over 40 years. William Oliver, father of current CEO Bill Oliver, opened the winery in 1972.
Camelot Mead put the winery on the map, selling 20,000 cases at first and being the winery’s first source of profit. As popularity for mead decreased, the winery moved on to other wines and now has 10 different categories of wine, ranging from dry to dessert. Yet Oliver Winery never forgot its mead. Since mead is getting a resurgence in popularity, Camelot Mead is getting a face lift.
Mead has taken a back seat to craft beer and wine, but is reemerging. Oliver Winery currently produces 8,000 cases of 50 ml bottles per batch to meet current demand. And the demand is increasing.
“It’s tricky to make [mead] but we got it figured out,” Bill Oliver said. Oliver took the reins from his father in the 1980’s and has been active in the wine production for years. “Bees can be very fickle.”
There are a variety of elements that can affect the consistency of mead: honey sourcing, different fermenting processes, and the type of yeast used. As with any alcoholic beverage, a healthy fermentation is key to getting the desired result.
Oliver said a problem with mead popularity stems from lack of a consistent product. To avoid loss of consistency, Oliver Winery sources orange-blossom honey that gives a pure, clean and bitter taste to the mead. Although the honey is not produced locally and the winery prefers to source as local as possible, the end goal will always be a consistent product.
Due to the extreme sugar content honey naturally has, it is difficult to get the yeast to adapt to the environment. The production is 16,000 gallons per batch using 4,400 lbs. of hot honey pumped into stainless steel tanks. The mead then ferments.
“Ours is an approachable, drinkable style of mead,” Oliver said. Their goal was to make a mead that wouldn’t scare off those new to the beverage. It is also to fuel the craft beverage scene.
The mead is so drinkable it has been accused of not even being a mead. Instead, the product has been accused of being a late harvest Riesling or a grape wine flavored with honey. But the product is exactly what is advertised — fermented honey.
There is an interesting ingredient the winery chose to include in their recipe although it is not unheard of to be used in mead. Some Cascade hops have been added during finishing to add some tannin to the beverage.
Oliver Winery currently ships their product to 18 states but it “could go well beyond that…we would like 30-35 states in the next five years,” Oliver said.
This includes Camelot Mead and its brand-new packaging. Compared to the winery’s other labels, Camelot Mead sports a label that is very different. “The new packaging is beautiful and ties into the craft beverage mentality,” Oliver said. The label is playful, but clearly presents a honeybee, signifying that the mead is a little different from their conventional wine.
When it comes to mead, Oliver believes it should be consumed within one year. However, he admits there are many who work with him who believe the mead becomes better with age. This is one way to represent the spirit of freedom mead possesses — the consumers’ preference.
Oliver Winery produces 8,000 cases of 50 mL bottles of mead. Each bottle sports the new packaging and Oliver expects production to increase significantly with the new look and resurgence of mead popularity.
For more information about Oliver Winery, visit www.oliverwinery.com .
Oliver Winery’s brand new look
by Grey McAlister