Sep 28: The passionate fruit wine makers of Meghalaya with abundance of fruits like grapes, Mandarin orange, mulberry, litchi, banana, pineapple, strawberry, Sohiong and Soh Phoh, have reasons to celebrate during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with the State legalising fruit wine production, writes Subhash Arora who attended the Fruit Wine Conference in January 2011 and was touched by the enthusiasm of the amateur winemakers who have the potential of making Meghalaya, fruit wine capital of India
When I visited Shillong in the bitter cold month of January, 2011 to attend the Fruit Wine Conference organised by NERAMAC in collaboration with the Indian Grape Processing Board, as a Speaker at the technical session, I was pleased to see the passion and excitement in the seven local fruit winemakers, who had brought fruit wine samples for display and tasting under special permission from excise.
Under the excise laws, they could produce the fruit wine for themselves and friends but were prohibited from selling it. Commercial production of wine including the lower alcohol fruit wines was not permitted in a State with abundance of fruits like grapes, strawberries, pineapples, passion fruits and a local dark cherry-like fruit called Sohiong and Indigenous pear variety Soh Phoh.
The reason, as Mr. A.T. Mondal, the then State Minister for Power and Excise explained at the inauguration, was that Meghalaya was still controlled by the pre- independence, pre-Constitution, Assam Excise Act of 1945 which did not permit production of wine or any alcohol.
Mercifully, after a struggle for over 18 years, the State has finally decided to legalise the production of fruit wines. The ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government on Thursday introduced the Manufacture and Sale of Home Made Fruit Wines Rules, 2020 for issuing of licenses to winemakers in the state.
“We have now formally created the rules where individuals can sell their homemade wines in the market,” said Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma after the cabinet meeting. He said that this strategic move by the state government would go a long way in helping farmers produce a variety of fruits in the state to sell their products locally which can be sold to the local winemakers.
The CM assured that there would not be any heavy encumbrances on the local winemakers to encourage more productivity and generate employment as well. “The state government has ensured that no VAT, and the ad valorem of Rs. 100 per case, paid by these winemakers will be much less than other products. We have also ensured that the license fee will be only Rs 7,500 for individuals from different cooperative societies or different companies interested."
If there is one person that deserves credit for getting the winemaking legalised, it is Michael Syiem, President of a group called ‘Forever Young’, who has been organising the Shillong Wine Festival since 2002, practically without support from any quarter. He brought the passionate fruit winemakers under a common umbrella and relentlessly pushed the envelope to get this done. This Festival has grown into an annual event in Shillong on every second Saturday of November, attracting winemakers and tourists from across the state and other parts of the North East.
Syiem who is now the President of the Meghalaya Wine Makers Association, is naturally elated at the decision and feels it is the culmination of a long and arduous campaign by all stakeholders. He feels that the move will go a long way in boosting the horticultural sector of the state, tourism and generate revenue for the state exchequer. Once it blossoms into the cottage industry as is envisioned, it will also help generate much-needed employment.
The enthusiasm of the people who are involved in this cottage industry and the quality level to which some of the wines have already reached, could make quality fruit wine-making a reality. Some of the wines I tasted at the Conference were very good to excellent, although there were a few that were undrinkable or did not inspire. But the legalised commercial production would ensure a constant improvement in the quality.
With all the negativity brought by Covid-19, Michael Syiem is cheerful and says, ‘Look at it this way. Amid all the chaos, anxiety, fear due to the ongoing pandemic, at least we have something to cheer about.’
We will raise a toast to Michael and Meghalaya and say JAI HO!!
For a couple of earlier related Articles, visit:
Shillong hosts 12th Fruit Wine Festival
Shimla to Shillong Seeking Fruit Wines
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