Filling the need for mead at Painted Rocks Winery
Honey wine, or mead, is growing in
popularity and being produced in the
I’m prized by men, in the meadows
Gathered on hillsides, and hunted in
From dale and from down, by day I
Airy wings carry me, cunningly store
Hoarding me safe. Yet soon men
Drained into vats, I’m dangerous grown.
I tie up my victim, and trip him, and throw him;
Often I floor a foolish old churl.
Who wrestles with me, and rashly would measure
His strength against mine, will straight-away find
Himself flung to the ground, flat on his back,
Unless he leave his folly in time,
Put from his senses and power of speech,
Robbed of his might, bereft of his mind,
Of his hands and fee. Now find me my name,
Who can blind and enslave men so upon earth,
And bring fools low in broad daylight.
The answer to that eighth century riddle is mead, or honey wine. Although its origins are shrouded in
the mists of time, mead is considered by many to be the oldest alcoholic beverage enjoyed by
mankind. It was celebrated in ancient writings of the Greeks and Romans, but probably is best
known as the favored drink of the Celts and Vikings of medieval times.
By DARYL GADBOW of the
The word "honeymoon" has its roots in mead. During the Middle Ages, it was tradition for a newly
married couple to drink mead for one moon – or a month – after the wedding to increase their chances
of conceiving a male child.
Today, honey wine is making a resurgence at a tiny western Montana winery operated by a group of
neighbors, who hope mead will be the answer to the riddle of making a living in their isolated, rural
Painted Rocks Winery is located in the upper reaches of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River
drainage, upstream from Painted Rocks Reservoir, close to the boundary of the Frank Church River of
No Return Wilderness on the rugged Montana/Idaho divide.
The lofty elevation in the Bitterroot Range, where the growing season can be as short as 30 days,
would seem to be the most unlikely place to find a winery.
The company was formed a little over a year ago by four couples who’ve become friends over the
years they’ve lived near each other in the West Fork. Since the first of this year, Painted Rocks
Winery has been marketing its wines – a light and a dark mead – directly to retail outlets in western
So far, the fledgling winery’s product has been snapped up by customers as fast as they can bottle
"We could easily sell 10 times as much as we produce. Easily," said Alan Tresemer, one of Painted
Rocks Winery’s owners. "Every time we go into another area (to market the wine), the response we
get is incredible."
Operating its winemaking facilities in a small room of Alan and Erica Tresemer’s log and stone home,
Painted Rocks Winery currently is producing between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles a month. But the eight
owners have drawn up plans for a full-size winery, housed in a 10,000-square-foot building, which
could produce 16,000 to 25,000 gallons a year.
A winemaking hobby of one of the owners – Ken Schultz – was the genesis of the Painted Rocks
"It’s Ken’s fault," says his wife Lisa. "He’s been making wine all along. He made some mead about
10 years ago. Then we went away and left it for seven years. When we came back and tried it, it was
very good. So we shared it with our neighbors."
Ken Schultz was a hobby winemaker when he and Lisa moved to the West Fork in 1979 from Ohio.
"We’d make trips back there every year to get grapes for wine and visit relatives," Lisa says.
After they’d been in Montana for a while, Ken discovered that he had all the ingredients he needed for
dandelion wine. He won medals for both his grape and dandelion wines that he entered in the annual
international wine competition at the Indiana State Fair. In 2001, he also won a bronze medal in that
competition for his dark mead.
"We’d been sharing these wines with our neighbors," says Lisa. "And we decided it would be a good
idea to start a winery."
Mead was a natural choice for the new winery because the primary ingredient, honey, was
abundantly available locally.
"And," adds Erica Tresemer, "Ken’s is so good."
"It’s all about local people making a local product out of local resources," says Ken Schultz. "I guess
you know how hard it is to make a living in rural areas of Montana. We’re 38 miles south of Darby. So
a daily commute to, say Florence, to work is 80 to 90 miles each way. Over the years, we’ve been
trying to figure out a way to stay here, and create a business where we could work at home. And this
did that very neatly."
The various skills and talents of the eight partners also blended nicely in the business.
"We all fulfill a unique aspect of the business," says Ken, whose role is head winemaker. His duties
entail combining the raw materials – mainly honey, water and yeast – and monitoring and
manipulating the fermentation process to produce a consistent wine. He’s also in charge of research
and development of new wine products.
In his "day job," Ken is a stonemason who has several crews working on contracts throughout the
"I make sure everybody eats when they’re working here," says Lisa of her official capacity in the
winery. "And I keep the minutes of our meetings."
Winery partner John Bockelmann, a master mechanic by trade, is the company’s do-it-all handyman.
His wife Chari is the winery accountant.
Alan Tresemer is in charge of sales and marketing and dealing with state and federal licensing
Erica Tresemer handles vendor contracts, purchasing and ordering. "I find stuff," she says.
After the Tresemers moved to the Painted Rocks area in 1994, Erica Tresemer and Lisa Schultz
teamed up to home-school the children of both families. Their youngest just graduated from high
Rounding out the partnership of neighbors are Steve and MaryAnn Goss, who operate an excavation
business. Along with all the others, they share duties of bottling, labeling and delivering wine. Steve
has lived at Painted Rocks longest of the group, moving to the area with his parents as a youngster
Alan Tresemer’s "outside job" is fire chief of the Painted Rocks Volunteer Fire Department.
"For all intents and purposes," says Ken Schultz at a meeting of the winery partners, "this is the fire
In the cramped quarters of what used to be the home-school library in the Tresemers’ home, Ken
Schultz tends his winemaking equipment – two rows of three shiny, 250-gallon stainless steel vats for
fermenting and finishing the wine, plus a 50-gallon container for specialty wine and product
The facility, he says, is "very small" for a commercial winery.
He’s already developed two new wines – dandelion and elderberry mead – that the company plans to
market as soon as the owners get approval from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
The dark and light meads that the winery makes essentially are the same, pure honey wine, Ken
says. Because of its simplicity, mead has long been a popular concoction of home brewers and
"But we process the honey in a secret, patented way," he adds. "We use dark honey for the dark
mead, which produces a different flavor."
The dark mead is slightly sweeter than the light mead.
In the fermentation process, explains Ken, the alcohol comes from the sugar content. In mead wine,
honey replaces grapes as the sugar source. But whereas grapes contain nearly perfect sugar content
and acidity for wine, mead’s high acidity and sugar content must be "adjusted" with a small amount
of additives derived from grapes and other natural sources.
While Painted Rocks Winery’s mead isn’t stored in oak casks, like some expensive wines, it is
finished in a mix with oak chips which, according to Ken, gives it the same distinctive mellow flavor.
While mead improves with age, he says, it is eminently drinkable soon after it is bottled. Over time,
the winery will accumulate and market stores of aged mead.
Honey wine tastes much like grape wine. The Painted Rocks dark mead has a sweet taste,
somewhat like a sherry. The light mead is similar to a light, dry grape wine.
"Mead goes so well with so many different kinds of foods," says Erica Tresemer. "The light mead will
go with any food. A chef in Missoula compares it to a real good fume’ blanc. People like the dark
mead with meat, like steak or chicken. Mead tricks your tongue. It’s actually a semi-dry wine. But it
comes across as slightly sweet. One thing that’s neat is it’s good at different temperatures. And it
keeps well. If you store it, it just gets better."
"We’ve had several Montana chefs try our product," adds Alan Tresemer. "They’re real excited,
figuring out recipes that our wine goes well with."
Painted Rocks Winery’s label features a smug-looking, bearded Viking warrior, complete with horned
Getting the label and wine formula approved by the federal BATF was an exercise in frustration that
dragged on for a year before the company could begin marketing its wine, Alan says.
The partners originally proposed including the poem at the beginning of this article on the label, says
Ken Schultz. But BATF rejected it, apparently because it was too violent.
"It talks about tying people up," Ken says. "BATF also rejected it because it suggested that this
product had intoxicating properties, even though we have to also print a warning on the label about
A student of the rich body of legend and lore that surrounds mead, Ken jokes that the Painted Rocks
company decided not to risk a further rebuff by BATF with another legendary property attributed to
"Hypocrites, who was considered the father of medicine, was a winemaker," says Ken. "And he
made mead, and used it medicinally. Because of its high acid content, it doesn’t allow bacteria to
grow. Mead was the root of the word medicine, according to a legend that dates back to Hypocrites.
But because of BATF, we’re not claiming any medicinal properties."
Nevertheless, Ken enjoys talking about mead’s prominent place in history and literature.
"Homer wrote about it in the ‘Iliad and the Odyssey,’ " he says. "That’s why they had to tie Odysseus
to the mast so he wouldn’t run off with the sirens. Mead is what made Robin Hood’s merry men
For the time being, Painted Rocks Winery is limiting its marketing to Montana. No one else is
making pure honey wine commercially in the state. But the partners are excited about the prospects
of an expanded future market.
"It took longer to get started than we expected," says Alan. "What we weren’t expecting was for
sales to take off so fast. The secret of success to this is to get people to try it – and they’re
customers for life."
While they wait for what success may come, the eight Painted Rocks neighbors and partners are
clearly relishing this new aspect of their friendship.
"This is the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life," says Erica.
Reporter Daryl Gadbow can be reached at 523-5264 or at [email protected]
Available in these towns
Painted Rocks Winery’s two varieties of pure honey wine are available at the following locations in
western Montana. The price is about $14 a bottle:
Sula – Sula Store
Conner – Conner Store
Darby – People’s Market, Mr. T’s, West Fork Lodge Billabong
Hamilton – Lulu Restaurant, Cheers! Hamilton Liquor, Lone Pine Conoco, Bitterroot Grocery
Emporium, Hamilton IGA
Victor – Victor Liquor
Stevensville – Kutter’s IGA, Stevensville Liquor Store Valley Drug
Florence – Gary and Leo’s Fresh Foods
Lolo – Harvest Foods, Lolo Liquor
Missoula – Good Food Store, Osco Drug, The Shack
For more information, call Painted Rocks Winery at (406) 349-WINE (9463); or visit its Web site at
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