SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Sergio Moutela has come a long way from the days of making traditional grape wine with his family and trying his hand at homebrewed beers. Indulging his interest in mead – a wine made from honey rather than grapes – Moutela made history when he opened Melovino Craft Meadery last fall.

A first generation American, Moutela grew up in a Portuguese family and, from an early age, assisted with the wine making process. As an adult, he joined the Woodbridge Homebrewers Ales and Lager Enthusiasts Society (WHALES) and began trying his hand a making beer, entering and occasionally winning local, regional, and national competitions for his homebrewed products. It was through his affiliation with the group that he stumbled on mead and thought he’d give that a try as well.

Moutela went out, bought honey, diluted it with water and, after letting it sit for a few months in his basement, gave it a try. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had never tasted it before and figured it would probably taste like a light honey beer,” Moutela said, adding, “I was really excited to taste it and it was disgusting. Really, really bad.”

Sign Up for E-News

Determined to make a better product the next time around, Moutela spent hours researching mead before mixing new batches and entering them – along with some of his beers – into new competitions. In 2012, the next two meads he crafted won both gold and silver medals in a notable regional competition and, the following year, took home 18 more award for his meads. Perhaps most notable was winning back-to-back gold medals in the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition. Not only did Moutela take home the top honor from the largest mead contest in the world but he also received an inquiry from one of the Mazer judges seeking the winning recipe.

Declining the judge’s request, Moutela began to reconsider his future plans. Employed with in the import/customs clearance industry for 15 years, Moutela had been toying with the idea of opening a small brewpub but the success of his meads made him realize a meadery might be a better idea.

“There weren’t any meaderies in New Jersey and, to me, that seemed like a more viable option, especially since I never won many awards for my beers,” he laughed. “I began to realize I wasn’t very good at beer making but it seemed I had a knack for making great mead.”

Moutela began pursuing his venture in early 2014 and soon realized why there weren’t any other meaderies in the state. Calls to New Jersey’s Division of Alcohol and Beverage Control initially turned up dead ends when he learned that what he was trying to do did not fall under any license offered by the state. “There were no licenses or provisions for it,” he said. “It didn’t fall under the winery licenses the state offered, which only allow for wines made from grapes or other fruits, leaving wine made from honey out of the picture.”

Determined and persistent, Moutela did not give up and somehow managed to secure a meeting in Trenton where he was able to talk about mead, explain the process and share his plans with the key players from the Alcohol and Beverage Control division. His presentation was a success and in March 2014 Moutela made history when he was granted the state’s first-ever commercial mead making license.

“Who would have thought some kid who grew up in Newark and Elizabeth would make state history. It’s really cool,” said Moutela, who officially opened the Melovino Craft Meadery – the name comes from the Latin roots for honey (mel) and wine (vino) – last September. Most recently, the appropriately trademarked his product as ‘The Best Drink You’ve Never Had.’

Believed to be one of the oldest fermenting processes in existence, mead is made by diluting honey with water. Yeast is added to ferment the sugar and convert the liquid to alcohol while herbs, fruits and spices can also be mixed in to create different varieties usually ready within three to four months.

“Making mead is easy,” said Moutela. “Making good mead is not.”

Extremely particular about what goes in his mead, Moutela’s products are made from only the best honey, reverse osmosis water and all natural, gluten-free ingredients. He works directly with the Stiles Apiaries in Fords and the Lancaster-based Dutch Gold Honey. Unlike traditional wine in which there are only so many variations of grapes out there, meads can vary tremendously because there are so many different honey varietals available.

“The way a honey tastes and smells depends on the nectar source it comes from,” said Moutela, adding, “For every floral source in the world there’s a different honey varietal so, for example, honey made from orange blossoms will possess a citrusy floral characteristic.

Like traditional grape wine, mead can be dry, sweet or semi-sweet and around the same alcohol content per glass. However, there is no red or white when it comes to mead and it isn’t as acidic. “Mead is a lot smoother and will not burn. Don’t expect it to taste like wine,” said Moutela, noting that because it is made with honey, mead doesn’t need to contain excessive sulfites or preservatives. “Mead can last weeks once opened and, in most cases, doesn’t have to be refrigerated,” he said.

All Melovino’s mead is fermented, bottled and packaged on site with four 275-gallon stainless steel tanks producing 1,800 bottles of mead each. Sinfonia – a complex mead blended from three different types of honey and three different types of oak, and Sweet Affair His – which features wildflower honey, cabernet sauvignon grape juice and oak – among Moutela’s favorites.

“Sinfonia, which means ‘symphony’ in Portuguese, is the most complex mead I have ever tasted. It’s like the scotch of the mead world with like qualities while Sweet Affair His is an affair between mead and wine,” said Moutela.

Additionally, Essence, which is a sweet mead made from orange blossom honey from Florida, is currently Melovino’s top seller while Sweet Affair Hers, made from orange blossom honey and sauvignon blanc grape juice for an end product with a great balance of honey and a crisp sauvignon blanc character, also tops Moutela’s list.

“It depends on your mood,” Moutela said, adding, “Not everyone is going to like everything, but we try to make something for everyone. If I wouldn’t personally drink it I am not going to bottle it.”

Melovino is currently featuring seven varieties at this time; 14 different varieties will be ready for bottling in March with the total set to double by June. Additionally, Moutela recently opened an online merchandise shop and hopes to begin distributing his products in stores soon later this year and

Located at the back of the Millburn Village Mall, the Melovino Craft Meadery offers tastings and tours and is available for private parties. For more information, visit www.melovino.com or call 855-635-6846. Additionally, special tasting and tour options are currently available online at Groupon, Amazon Local and Living Social.