Amateur winemaker wins big awards for fine honey wine

Jennifer Mastroianni GateHouse News Service

Imagine life during the Neolithic Revolution about 5,000 years ago, when humans first began to cultivate plants and animals.

Picture a pleasant summer evening, and a few cave pals are kicking around with their crops and critters when they happen upon a lovely honeycomb.

“Hmmmm, looks tasty,” says one, plucking off a piece and pouring the amber into his mouth.

As the elixir glides across his tongue, he shudders with delight. “This isn’t honey!”

“What is it?” the buddies ask excitedly.

“It’s happy hour!”

Mankind has been enjoying wine ever since.

That might not be exactly how it went down, but it’s an assumption. The first wine was a product of honey, not grapes, and it is called mead.

“That’s the theory, that early man chanced upon a honeycomb that rain had fallen into, thereby diluting the honey and allowing it to be fermented by the wild yeast,” said Dr. Godwin Meniru, a Nigerian-born American who is a reproductive gynecologist and obstetrician, as well as owner of Junaelo Women’s Clinic in Jackson Township, Ohio.

Wondering why a doc might be an expert on honey wine? Because about four years ago, Meniru renewed his interest in winemaking, which first began as a teenager in Nigeria. Over the years, Meniru has made plenty of traditional wine, but more recently, he became fascinated by mead.

“It’s traditionally just honey, water and yeast,” Meniru explained. “From there, you then can add different fruits and berries, cider, malt, spices if you like.”

Other nuances come from the flowers the bees frequent.

“There are a variety of flavors you get from different honey,” he said. “Such as wildflower and orange blossom and buckwheat.”

Meniru started producing mead in his basement, with help from his wife, Maryann, and their four children. So tasty was the product that Meniru decided to enter a few wine contests. To his delight, he chalked up some wins.

Last year, on a whim, he entered several varieties in the 2012 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition, the premier competition for home vintners that, this year, drew more than 1,400 winemakers from all 50 states and seven countries, with a total of 4,318 wine entries.

In an astonishing feat, Meniru was named WineMaker of the Year at the award ceremony, held June 2 at Cornell University in New York.

“It blew me away,” Meniru said. “The whole hall went on their feet. They gave me a standing ovation. I never expected it.”

Meniru entered traditional mead, berry mead, spiced mead and apple mead, and he racked up numerous medals. The award is given based on an average of scores.

Brad Ring, publisher of WineMaker Magazine, which sponsors the competition, said the title says a lot about Meniru’s skill as a winemaker.

“It really recognizes his ability to craft very high-scoring, award-winning wines,” Ring said. “It’s one of the biggest awards we give. And what’s neat is that this was the first time it went to a non-grape wine.”

Meniru continues to be surprised and pleased by the distinction.

“I beat out all the Big Red winemaker boys from California,” he said. “It’s a statement for mead.”

If you’ve never had mead, it tastes much like a traditional wine. One might expect a bold honey taste, but the honey flavor is subtle and delicate. It’s a delightful wine, and the public will soon be able to enjoy it when Meniru opens a winery and tasting room early this fall in Ohio. For a sneak peak, visit