The Winemaker: Ayele Solomon
I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and building things. I began cooking at an early age and chemistry was one of my favorite subjects. And I have always been fond of nature and my birthplace, Ethiopia.
It all started with two simple ingredients and an idea: to refine Ethiopia’s ancient national beverage, t’ej (ጠጅ), as a natural wine with the floral and fragrant – non-bitter – qualities of honey while having the balance and complexity of grape wine.
It became an obsession leading to five years of aging and fermenation trials using the latest wine science and equipment. Almost 200 generations of women home t’ej makers taught and inspired me. Yet every new vintage teaches more and improves.
I hope one day Bee D’Vine will not be just a delicious drink but a way to promote the culture and knowledge around honey wine, improve rural beekeepers’ livelihoods in America, and around the world, and conserve natural habitats and bees.
SUSTAINABILITY IS KEY
A Lifelong Passion
Ayele comes from two generations of pioneering commercial farmers in Ethiopia. This background and growing up appreciating nature on family safaris in Kenya has influenced his connection to both farming and nature.
These interests led him to participate as a youth delegate at the Earth Summit in 1992. Thereafter, he studied economics of conservation and agriculture in college leading to a professional career taking him through Africa and the world.
While on a work trip to Ethiopia’s Kafa rainforest in 2009, he had an idea that might help save the endangered forest: Why not find a way to make trees more valuable to local residents so that they had an incentive to protect them – not cut them down?
From One Passion to Another
From One Passion to Another
Ayele realized that these flowering trees in Kafa forest were an ideal source of nectar that bees use to make valuable honey. This set him on a quest to better understand the art and business of creating honey wine.
Additional inspirations came by way of a tradition of family grape growing in California and Ethiopia’s national beverage t’ej. He evaluated honey wine production in Ethiopia and South Africa, but settled on the world-class wine region of Sonoma Valley not far from where he grew up and where his father, Solomon, had planted a boutique vineyard in 2005.
Now Ayele manages ‘Sol Farms’ and makes ‘Sol Wines’ grape wine every year – an old-world field-blend of organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This experience and inspiration informs his craft of honey wines.
“Honey wine has a very small footprint. There’s no irrigation, no pesticides, no uprooting landscapes to plant vineyards – in fact bees pollinate plants and create food! We use beekeeping and honey to promote forest conservation.”