[Editor's Note: Written by Jenn Hansen. This was Jenn's first trip to the Winegrower's meeting.]
The North Carolina Winegrowers Association annual meeting took place January 23-25 in Winston-Salem, NC. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in the conference classes and business meetings representing Starrlight Mead, along with Ben, Becky, and Sarah. The opportunity to network with others in the wine industry, those forerunners and those who were new to the industry, was informative, and the instruction and experience shared on the various curriculum tracks was incredibly valuable.
Starrlight Mead was one of two honey wineries represented, the other being Durham based Honeygirl Meadery. With honey being as important an agricultural commodity in this state as grapes, and with our production processes overlapping winemaking in many ways, I knew that I could learn a lot from the practices of other prominent wineries, and get a better feel for the pulse of the industry in North Carolina. I was surprised to see some familiar faces, folks I'd met while out doing mead tastings at local bottle shops. I had to opportunity to speak with them in depth about what they do, and how we are similar. I still feel that eighty percent of our job in the tasting room, and in wholesale with our retail partners is education. The mead speaks for itself once poured, but I'm always happy to take the time to explain what makes mead mead, our production process, and, fairly often, share some historical knowledge.
But, the conference wasn't all work and no play. Friday night, a few of the wineries paired up with chefs from restaurants all over Winston-Salem to deliver a truly delicious tast of NC. This was not only an opportunity to taste many local wines I had never gotten around to sampling, but also exposed me to what Winston-Salem has to offer its diners. I was not disappointed. Winston-Salem is a foodie destination in the Triad! On offer were two variations on cassoulet, a slow-braised brisket of beef over dreamy cheese grits (best bite of the night), wine (and mead) with chocolates, and much more. I returned to my room Friday night, head filled with fresh knowledge, belly warm with plenty of tasty food and wine.
Saturday night, we were given another opportunity to taste more wine before the grand banquet. I took my time to savor each sample, getting the nose, swirling and sipping, rolling the wine and a wealth of new terminology about the wine over my tongue. During the dinner that followed, we were addressed by Richard Childress of Childress Vineyards, and then by the state governor, Pat McCrory. The discussion was casual, like a conversation between old friends that we just happened to sit in on. And while there was a lot of talk about NASCAR, there was also some delicious food and enough mead on the table to keep us interested.
I left the NCWGA conference feeling full of new knowledge, not only of the work I've grown to love, but also about the wine industry North Carolina. As the year progresses, I know I will use what I learned either as reference or in practice at Starrlight Mead, as we grow and expand our business. I also have a list of wine to pick up and share with friends and family at our next gathering!