Honey & Wine
The most ancient of connection between wine and honey exists in mead. Although not made from grapes, it is often known as honey wine. It is created by fermenting honey using yeast and can have hops, spices or fruit added. Rice mead made from China dating to 7000 BC, is currently considered one of the oldest known alcoholic drinks. Greek gods, Vikings, Egyptians, Romans and the ancient Druids are all said to have consumed mead for ceremonial and social events.
But today, its not just about the honey as wineries around the world are taking a keen interest in bees, even though grapevines don’t actually need bees to pollinate their flowers.
European vines typically flower from late May into early June and provided the weather is calm and dry, the vine flowers self pollinate and after the tiny slightly scented flowers are past, the miniscule green grape berries can be seen.
But, vineyard owners consider pollinators such as bees, honey bees, hoverflies, pollen wasps and butterflies as critically important to the ecosystem in a vineyard. Because, as natural pollinators of clover, grasses and legumes, they allow beneficial plants to grow and help create vineyard habitats that encourage insects such as ladybirds, lacewing and wasps which prey on other vineyard insect pests.
The evidence of a change in attitude, can be seen these days when visiting vineyards, where you will find many of them much less manicured than in the past. There is a trend for wine estate owners to try to offset the monoculture of vineyard planting by reducing the use of herbicides, planting beneficial plants that attract wildlife and trying to improve biodiversity in the vineyard to encourage microorganisms and pollinators into the vineyard.
Bee populations are declining in double didget percentages in many parts of the world with blame being directed towards insecticides, beekeeping practises, malnutrition and mites. So, many wine estates are taking things a step further by siting bee hives in the vineyards to help develop bee populations.
In taking action, vineyards are hopefully contributing to the greater good as bees and other pollinators allow fruit set of for examples apples, pears, cotton, coffee, vegetables and crop food sources. Some plants such as clover and alfalfa used for livestock feed also require some degree of pollination and according to Friends of The Earth, 80% of European wild flowers require insect pollination.
The very latest research about bees is also very relevant for vineyard and winery owners. It shows that yeasts are overwintering on bees underbellies and in the spring this might help regenerate local native yeast populations in the vineyard.
If you want to play your part, drink bee friendly wines and
look out for the certification on the back labels.