Jessica Wehr, Wehrloom Honey
Grant Award: $6,000
Jessica and Aron have added a meadery to the Wehrloom Honey Retail Store and Educational Center in Robbinsville. While making wine out of honey is unique in itself, they also have the first winery of any type in Graham County that is open to the public for tours, tastings and direct sales. To date, they have been incredibly successful, far surpassing their expectations.
Jessica and Aron are building on Wherloom Honey’s established business on U.S. 129, the main highway of Robbinsville, in which they sell honey, moisturizing balms, honey soaps and other bee products. A pollinator path and honeybee observatory allows visitors to watch bees and other pollinators gathering nectar from flowers on the open path as well as see from behind glass what goes on within hives.
Now visitors can also learn about mead-making and participate in mead-tasting. Graham County is a tourist destination, but there are currently not many options for indoor activities during inclement weather.
Jessica and Aron have navigated the alcohol permitting process and built up enough honey reserve to begin commercial sale production. They have purchased a filtration system, bottling machine, pump, as well as large tanks, bottles and labels. The value-added element at the very least doubles the price per pound of their honey, and it could become as much as eight times as valuable.
They are currently producing six varieties of mead: Yard Sale, which is made with lavender and hops; Black”bear”ry, using local blackberries; Pretty in Peach; Appalachian Apple; Tiny Stout, a seasonal variety; and their best selling mead, Dry County Dry, similar to a dry white grape wine, named after Graham County’s law banning the sales of alcohol. Wineries that manufacture their own beverages are exempt from this regulation under the North Carolina Department of Agriculture winery rules.
Once production exceeds the demand of the retail store, Jessica and Aron plan to connect with nearby lodges and restaurants to carry the mead. With further expansion, they plan to work with a distributor to offer products on a national level. Nationwide, there are fewer than 300 meaderies in the country, in comparison to 9,000 fruit-based wineries.
Jessica and Aron tend to 200 to 300 bee colonies throughout Graham County. “What began in 2011 as a hobby, quickly became a passion, and, in our community—where little job opportunities were to be had—a full-time job for both myself and my husband,” Jessica said. “We have spent the last five years dedicating countless hours to creating a business that fully supports our family and two other full-time employees.” As their business expands, they expect to hire more employees, and job creation is critically important in Graham County.
They harvest two varieties of honey as well as manufacture 25 different skin care products, beeswax candles and other honeybee related goods. Their 2015 WNC AgOptions project to expand their line has resulted in nearly $20,000 in sales thus far.