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Honey and Terroir: How Wine and Honey Can Mix

March 22, 2017

Honey, Honey Bees, Honey Industry

A honeybee hive’s natural environment determines the color, consistency, and flavor of the honey within it. Simply put, honey has terroir, defined as the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to wine by the environment in which it's made. Anthony Hamilton Russell, who owns the Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South America, directly compares honey to wine because of terroir. “Honey does reflect the terroir of where the bee harvests the pollen. It is an expression of place, just like wine.”


Bees take pollen and nectar from local flowers to store in their hives where it is eventually turned into honey. Plant diversity in the area is the deciding factor in a honey's flavor. For example, bees in the California region are attracted to avocado blossoms for foraging. The blossoms tend to produce a buttery rich flavor in the honey.

In the U.S., there are about 300 honey varieties since there are plants native to certain areas producing honey unique to those areas. There are some varieties you just can’t find anywhere else. For example, Tupelo honey comes from bees foraging from tupelo gum trees. These trees only grow in swamps beside the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers in Florida.

Even if honey is labeled as clover or wildflower, general flavors for most honey varieties, the honey may taste differently based on where the plants grew. According to C. Marina Marchese, an apiarist and co-author for The Honey Connoisseur, “Wildflower honey from California is different from wildflower honey from Texas and wildflower honey from Connecticut."


There is so much diversity in the different flavors of honey, says Amina Harris, a beekeeper and the director for the Honey and Pollination Center at UC-Davis's Robert Mondavi Institute. Harris's school actually developed a taste testing wheel similar to wine. They worked with an expert panel to make a honey flavor wheel, which is sweeter compared to the Wine Aroma Wheel. The honey wheel uses roughly 99 words for detailing flavors from grape to butterscotch.

“They know the vocabulary of wine and can apply it to honey,” Harris says. Winemakers are becoming more interested in what connects wine and honey. Marchese, who is also behind the American Honey Tasting Society, has events around the country. Similar to wine tastings, they pour honey into wine glasses. Taste experts are then able to describe the honey by aroma, color, texture, and overall flavor.

Many winemakers are now maintaining hives in their vineyards or partnering with local beekeepers to produce unique brands of honey. Most vineyards are already pollinated by wind, but the crops allow bees to forage directly from the grape blossoms, which creates great honey. Although they aren’t the same, honey and wine can yield sweet results when cared for year-round.

Copyright: rostislavsedlacek / 123RF Stock Photo

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