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Finding Minnesota: Getting Buzzed On Honey Wine

CHISAGO CITY, Minn. (WCCO) -- Winemaking has brought sweet success to one Minnesota family, but they've been stung many times in the process.

WineHaven is an award-winning vineyard and winery, but its best-selling product doesn't involve any grapes at all. It's a wine made of honey.

Kevin Peterson and his family were beekeepers before they ever built a vineyard in the 1990s. Now, honey is what goes into their most popular wine.

"We call it Stinger, like the bee stinger," said Kyle Peterson, Kevin's son. "There's no grapes in it, no fruit at all. It's only made with honey."

WineHaven produces 20,000 bottles of honey wine each year, shipping some of it as far away as Japan and South Korea.

"They really like it with their spicy food," Kyle said. "You hear about sweet and sour, and they find it's just right along the lines of those plum wines and the different varieties they sell."

The process is nearly identical to the way they make wine from grapes. They dilute the raw honey with water, then ferment it with yeast to produce alcohol.

Honey wine, also known as mead, was one of the first-ever fermented drinks, dating back to the middle ages. Now it's enjoying another renaissance, with the number of mead producers more than doubling in the U.S. in two years.

"You can have so many flavors of honey, depending on the flowers that the bees collect the nectar from," Kyle said.

The Petersons' honey is mild, because their bees pollinate mostly clover and basswood trees that flower for two weeks in July.

"It's an important tree for Minnesota beekeepers because it could produce up to 50 percent of our entire year's honey in that two-week period," Kyle said.

As sweet as the product can be, it's not an easy business to run.

"I always kind of kiddingly say I've been stung financially and physically as the rest of my family has," said Kevin Peterson.

His wife Cheri and their son, Troy, do their work inside, far away from the hives. Both are "deathly allergic" to bee stings.

Visitors to WineHaven don't have to worry about being stung, because the nearest bees are a mile away. In fact, they spend their winters in sunny Florida.

The bees are loaded onto semis and trucked down there, so they can pollinate the orange groves and repopulate at the same time.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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