Kenwood honey farmer goes viral on ‘Shark Tank’
When Ayele Solomon bottled her first batch of homemade honey wine, he couldn’t have guessed it would lead him to “Shark Tank,” the TV show where wealthy investors weigh the merits of individual entrepreneurs hoping to expand. the reach of their businesses.
But that’s exactly where Solomon, an East Bay resident who brings his honey wine to life in the Sonoma Valley, ended up in late 2020, launching the Financial Goliaths ‘Shark Tank’ from a niche. distinctly David-esque: produce a few hundred cases. of mead wine a year, Solomon was a minnow, swimming among sharks.
He had been tinkering with his Bee d’Vine honey wine for years and last year he had just opened the very first licensed wine tasting bar inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. And then COVID-19 hit and totally killed its momentum.
A little desperate on how to proceed, Solomon, 47, filled out an online application for “Shark Tank” in late March, and almost immediately the producers called. In August, he was in Las Vegas to feature the show’s five financial titans for a segment that aired in november on ABC television.
Honey wine, commonly known as mead but known as t’ej in Solomon’s native Ethiopia, is the oldest fermented drink in the world. It was prized by Vikings, ancient Romans and Greeks. It is regularly appreciated in the country of origin of Salomon, famous for its lively minerality and its floral and honeyed notes.
Salomon’s wine – which he ferments in a rented space at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood – is marketed as a refreshing change of pace from traditional grape wines. Indeed, the “sharks” of “Shark Tank” raved about the flavors of the wine. But it was not the winemaking in itself that motivated him at the start. Its mission was essentially environmental.
Walking through what remains of Ethiopia’s Kafa rainforest in 2009, Solomon had an eye-opening as he watched its decimation. If he could get his countrymen to protect the trees by monetizing them in a new way, he might succeed in helping save the remaining forest.
Many flowering trees native to Kafa have been cut down for cultivation, and their wood is turned into charcoal and sold. But trees are also an ideal source of the nectar and pollen needed to make honey, and Salomon thought that if modern beekeeping techniques could be introduced to the local population, the income generated by honey production could tip over. the balance towards the preservation of forests.
“If you get honey from the rainforests, there is an incentive not to cut down the trees,” Solomon said. “My background is in conservation. Honey wine is much more durable, one of the few things where you have a “positive externality,” a term used to describe the consumption or production of a particular product that benefits a third party. “The bees make the honey, but you also have the by-product of fertilization and increased yields from other crops. There are no tractors, no fragmentation of the landscape, no irrigation.
Honey wine has always been an acquired taste, and Solomon knew that persuading wine lovers to try it could be a tough climb. So he set to work in the family garage, perfecting the grape varieties that would become the basis of the Honey Wine Company.
There is a crunchy brut, and a fruity demi sec. “We have something for everyone,” Solomon said. “Dry, soft, still, sparkling. The shape of the Bee d’Vine line’s bowling pin bottle is unique, as is the diamond-shaped label inscribed in Amharic Ge’ez script. But it’s what is in the bottles of BeeD’Vine that really made the heads of Shark Tank investors. Lori Greiner, whose net worth is estimated at $ 100 million, exclaimed after her first tasting: “This is the first white wine I liked! It’s like a dream come true.
Salomon’s dream was for “Shark Tank” investors to give him $ 750,000 in exchange for 20% of his Honey Wine Company and access to their professional rolodex. He ended up securing financial commitments from four of the five multimillionaires on the panel in a rare display of investor enthusiasm.
The hold-out – called “Mr. Marvelous ”by the other cast members of the series in an ironic way – was the sole dissenter, insisting that Bee d’Vine wines were priced too aggressively. Solomon stood firm against this particular lawyer. “Shutting down honey is not that easy,” he explained. “And honey is not scalable. It doesn’t make much difference whether you buy a barrel or a truck. There is no economy of scale with honey.
Sales of Solomon’s Bee d’Vine wines have certainly increased since its appearance on “Shark Tank” last year. “It was a really good bump,” he said. “The combination of COVID and the vacation and the fact that the sharks really liked it. “
Contact Kate at [email protected]