Sticky sweet stuff
HoneyRun Winery doesn’t bottle typical vino
Amy Hasle often has to explain the difference between her business, HoneyRun Winery, and the Honey Run Covered Bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some confusion is understandable, she says. Hasle and her husband, John, live about a mile from the iconic bridge in Butte Creek Canyon, and it’s depicted on most of their product labels. “People assume that we make our wine there, or that’s where the berries are, or that’s where we get our honey,” she said. “It’d be pretty funny if the bridge was full of bee hives, but it’s not.”
The meadery, as it’s called, was formerly located on Honey Run Road, but now it’s on Park Avenue in south Chico. All the varieties of HoneyRun’s honeywine—cherry, elderberry, blackberry and cranberry, along with a dry honeymead made without fruit—are produced, packaged and shipped from that location. During the CN&R’s recent visit, Hasle said she shares ownership of the business with John, but wears “80 percent of the hats around here.”
The couple met in 1989, during a “somewhat raging party” at John’s house in Chico, and discovered a shared interest in natural foods. John had been selling local honey since 1982 and made wine as a hobby. Together, they started making honeywine and launched the official business in 1992.
Honeywine isn’t made from grapes—the main ingredients are honey and fruit juice—which, Hasle says, sets HoneyRun apart from the pack.
“I’m kind of happy not making another grape wine, partly because so many people are doing such a great job of that,” Hasle said. “It’s a unique product, and we’re even more strange because we don’t use any preservatives or sulfites.”
As much as possible, HoneyRun seeks out local ingredients, though the fruit juice comes from Washington and Oregon. For honey, Hasle depends mostly on beekeepers in Gridley, but it’s getting scarce amid the ongoing, countrywide bee die-off. (Some sources estimate nearly half of U.S. honey-bee colonies collapsed in 2015.) Lately, Hasle has struggled to find honey, period—not just locally.
“Last year, I could have sold more wine, but I’m limited on making it,” she said. The winery is holding steady, but it isn’t financially feasible to expand. “It would be a whole lot more fun to go out on the road and drum up more business.”
Whereas red wine is made in an open container, honeywine is made in a closed environment to keep oxygen out during fermentation, Hasle said. The whole process takes about five months, and working with honey is sometimes difficult because it’s so thick and sticks to everything.
“It’s a matter of muscling it around, getting it warm enough to flow and just waiting, waiting, waiting for it to dissolve and mix in,” she said.
HoneyRun produces 4,000 cases a year, nearly half of which are sold in California. The rest is distributed to pockets of the country where there’s a strong interest in natural foods, such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan and Hawaii. Shipments will soon include two new varieties—a dry mead infused with hot peppers and an elderberry honeywine that’s not quite as sweet as the other. Based on the reactions of friends, Hasle says the new dry mead is a hit with people who generally prefer to drink beer.
“We’ve been taking it around to parties. As I always like to say, ‘A friend with mead is a friend indeed.’”