October 29, 2003     Sunnyvale, California Since 1994
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Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer
Maria and Michael Faul, owners of Rabbit's Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale, have been making mead since 1994. They started producing four varieties in 2000.
Wine from the nectar of the gods produced in Sunnyvale
By Pallavi Somusetty
Mike Faul has found a way to get out of the Silicon Valley, high-tech rat race and bring a little bit o' Irish to Sunnyvale. The local resident and his wife, Maria, own Rabbit's Foot Meadery, a craft winery that makes mead—a wine produced from honey instead of grapes.

Faul, originally from Ireland, immigrated to the U.S. in 1980, later married and then moved to Sunnyvale with Maria in 1991. On a trip to Ireland in 1989, American-born Maria bought a bottle of mead at the airport. She liked it so much that after returning home, the Fauls searched up and down California for a bit of the honey-based wine but couldn't find it anywhere.

Faul decided to make the wine himself and concocted various versions of it for friends and family. Before long he was producing 200 gallons of mead a year.

So Faul quit his job as a systems engineer and shifted into the mead business. "I was tired of the rat race and working for other people," says Faul. But he takes on contract work as needed to supplement the household income.

So what began as a hobby turned into a small business that is enjoying success since it officially opened two years ago.

"Mead drinkers are part of a tiny little niche in the wine industry. My target isn't the regular wine consumer," says Faul. There are around 50 mead wineries in the entire country, but only three that solely produce mead, like Rabbit's Foot.

Faul has sold 1,000 bottles of mead this year and expects the company to break even by December. But the company's success has come as a surprise to Faul and is presenting something of a nice problem for him.

"I want to keep the wine in the barrels as long as I can, but people keep knocking down doors to get to it," says Faul. He only wants to sell a maximum of 200 cases a year so that most of the wine he produces now can age.

But his wine's popularity keeps growing.

Mead became popular in Northern Europe where the land and weather made it difficult to produce grapes. Made by fermenting honey and water, mead is sometimes flavored with fruit and spices. The nectar-of-the-Gods-based drink ranges from very dry and light, to sweet and heavily bodied, and a sparkling mead resembles sparkling white wine or champagne.

Faul currently sells three types of the wine: pear mead, dry mead and sweet wildflower mead. He is in the process of producing raspberry mead and blackberry mead, made from honey that is collected from those plants.

The process of making mead is labor-intensive, Faul says. He has to haul big barrels of honey into large kettles, heat it up and allow it to ferment into wine. On some days Maria helps with the process while their children hang out.

"They're the reason I do this. The impetus behind this whole business is to be able to spend time with my kids," says Faul.

The winery is located five blocks from the Fauls' home in Sunnyvale, which also gives him more time at home, and Faul usually walks to work. "I don't usually drink on the job, but if a cop pulls me over and I reek of alcohol, he might get the wrong idea." Faul says.

The winery is located at 1122 Aster Avenue, Suite J in Sunnyvale. For more information on Rabbit's Food Meadery, call 408.261.1603 or visit http://www.rabbitsfootmeadery.com.

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