When you consider great wine regions of the world, Davis County might not be the first place that comes to mind.
Jay and Lori Yahne, owners of the Hive Winery in Layton, aim to change that point of view with their handcrafted vintages.
But don't expect to find acres of grape leaves fluttering prettily in the breeze surrounding their winery. The Hive is tucked into a corner of an industrial part of Layton.
And because the Beehive State's busy bees make such delicious honey, and the land produces succulent fruits and berries, those are the ingredients the Yahnes turn to for their wines.
"There is no point in trying to do something that does not work, and grapes are about the soil and the climate being right," said Jay Yahne, who started making homemade wine for his own use 15 years ago, and presented his first commercial batch last summer.
"We just can't really grow good wine grapes here in Northern Utah. When I travel around and taste grapes grown where they really shouldn't be, the wines tend to be weak, without much character."
The Yahnes like that fruit and honey wines, and their various blends, are as different from each other as those proverbial apples and oranges.
"We enjoy grape wines, too -- but the differences between them really are very subtle variations," said Jay Yahne. "With fruit wine, you're drinking a raspberry or a peach. Honey wines vary depending on the honey used -- what the bees are feeding on flavors the honey. These are huge flavor differences, just as it is when you eat those fruits or try different honeys side by side."
Meads and more
Satisfying man's universal hunger for both sweet and alcoholic things, honey wines, called meads, may be the oldest alcoholic beverage.
According to a 2004 article in ScienceDaily, chemical tests confirmed that Neolithic jugs discovered in the Northern Chinese village of Jiahu had a residue of a rice/honey/fruit wine. The vessels were at least 9,000 years old. Many anthropologists believe we've been harvesting wild honey at least twice that long, and its fermenting, which also acts as a preservative, likely followed soon after.
Modern honey wines are commonplace in many cultures, each with distinct native touches. Meads and fruit wines are still extremely popular throughout Great Britain and parts of Canada. The honey wine tej is the national drink of Ethiopia.
Honey and fruit wines, and blends of honey and fruit, known by vintners and aficionados as melomels, are not nearly as commonplace in the United States.
But there are pockets of producers. In the west, Oregon is famous for its berries, and also its fruit wines. Southwestern Idaho has some fruit vintners, said Yahne. Palisades is a fruit and wine region outside of Grand Junction, Colo., and is also the place where the Yahnes, while honeymooning, discovered mead.
Not long after that, the Yahnes made their first batch of wine with the help of their fathers.
Jay Yahne's dad had a vastly overburdened Bing cherry tree and Lori's dad had the know-how to make home vintages and taught his son-in-law the ropes. Their first effort was a not-too-shabby batch of cherry wine.
"I joke that her dad drove me to drinking -- and that I thank him for it every day," said Jay Yahne. "He got me started, and then I really got into it and learned more and started tinkering. I think what I am doing ties into my mom's farm-raised mentality, too -- take it and make it better, is how she worked. So that's what we did."
While overhead was not low -- Jay Yahne had to take out a loan on his truck for start-up costs -- the Yahnes do at least own the building that houses both their winery and their other business, Y Squared Geotechnical.
The two are engineers whose primary business tests ground stability prior to construction, but the company took a nosedive once the recession ground new building projects to a halt.
"Last year things were very tough and ... we were talking about laying off staff," Lori Yahne said, "and I made a comment to him (Jay): 'Maybe if we made wine for a living instead of being engineers, maybe we could get away from a recession-prone industry.' "
She laughed. "Someday I'll learn not to give him ideas."
Added her husband: "We like to joke that engineering is our day job, and winemaking is our nights and weekend job. It's close to the truth, too."
The business side
Some people might think the Yahnes were crazy for even thinking of starting a winery here, what with Utah's notoriously convoluted liquor laws.
The Yahnes admit there are challenges. The tariffs on their goods tend to be higher than in other states, for one thing. And, as with other businesses dealing in alcohol hereabouts, they are watched carefully by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to make sure they comply with checking the ages of tasters and strictly adhering to their advertised business hours.
But those are details the two seem to take in stride.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge, because this is Utah," said Jay Yahne. "But I am an engineer, after all, and that has taught me that as long as you follow the rules -- work right, and work within the rules -- and can afford to sell your work for what it costs to make it, in the end, paperwork is just paperwork."
Added Lori Yahne: "By the time you've filled out the 80-page federal application, what's a few more sheets of paper?"
Jay Yahne said the federal process is daunting. "For instance, every one of my honey wine recipes must be federally approved," he said. "I can't even add spice to it without getting approval first."
Still, despite the bountiful paperwork, the strict rules, and the juggling of hours for their two businesses, the Yahnes are finding satisfaction in the satisfaction of their customers.
They are planning to expand this year, offering eight constantly available wines, and about 24 special seasonal vintages as well, to lure people back regularly to try new things.
"The people we've been meeting since we opened six months or so ago, people who are so excited by this, make it worth it," said Jay Yahne. "To have people go out of their way ... because they really appreciate that there is this winery here, is a really good feeling."