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Posted: Tuesday, 10 December 2019 10:17

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Commendable Fruit Wine Conference in Maharashtra

Dec 10: Priyanka Save and her husband Nagesh Pai, mechanical engineers from New Jersey USA set up a fruit winery at the Hill Zill Wine Resort in Bordi, a small town, about 150 km north of Mumbai, built by her father Shrikant Save. She organised a successful Conference on fruit wines and allied topics on November 22-23 at the Resort, writes Subhash Arora who likes to promote Indian fruit wine industry too, especially when Maharashtra has practically eliminated Excise Duty

When I met Priyanka Save and her husband Nagesh Pai at a wine event in Mumbai last year and tasted their fruit wines I was really fascinated by the Chikoo wine they were producing since 2017 in a small town called Bordi in the tribal belt of Maharashtra. She invited me to visit the Resort her father had built in 1991 in Dahanu and I politely accepted -thinking I might never have the opportunity to travel three hours from Mumbai on the opposite side of Nashik to check out a fruit wine producer!

But when I heard about the 2-day Conference she was planning at the winery resort on 22-23 November on fruit wines and expected 30 persons to attend with something for everyone, my interest piqued. I accepted her invitation to visit and also give an introductory address as I am keen to encourage fruit wine and mead (honey wine), and hoped to learn more about fruit wine making and taste a few bottles.

Importance of fruit wine

Priyanka claims she is the first one to have started the fruit wine production in Maharashtra and perhaps the first one in the world to make Chikoo (Sapota) wine. She took 5 years to obtain the license after applying in 2011 but, the excise duty was still payable though (grape) wine was exempted by the Maharashtra Excise Policy of 2001in force till 2021. This is because the policy defined wine as a product made only from grapes. This error (by international norms it is wine or fruit wine) was rectified thanks to her regular follow ups. The duty was finally waived off about a month ago on fruit wines as well (in reality, it is Re. 1 per lt. to keep it within the ambit and control of the government).

The waiver has helped reduce the selling price of fruit wine. For instance a bottle of 330 mL that cost  Rs. 255 earlier now costs only Rs. 185. This makes it compete better with beer that seems to be making faster strides due to relatively high costs of Indian wines.

Challenges of fruit wine

Unfortunately, the course taken by Hill Zill and other fruit wine producers is thinking beer when making fruit wine. In Himachal Pradesh where apple wine and other fruit wines are produced, the size and shape of the bottle is like a regular wine bottle. In Bordi, the label Fruzzante is reminiscent of beer and not wine and it could be a negative factor for perceiving fruit wine as wine: it should never be compared with beer (in price yes, but product no) which is brewed. Fruit wine is obviously through fermentation and needs to be in wine category for marketing, storage and flavour comparison as also in making laws.

Fruit wine always has the flavour profile that can be reminiscent of the fruit unlike grape wine which, thanks to the various esters formed during ageing can have different characteristics that vary with age, making wine a truly unique beverage.

Though fruit wine usually has low alcohol- most fruit wines from Fruzzante have 5-10% alcohol, as compared to grape wine which is 13-16% these days, taking it to high alcohol category that is neither good with food nor good for health reasons. It has thus all the negative features of wine-especially higher level of alcohol-even if it is natural alcohol from  fermenting sugars in the fruit.

Importance of Fruit Wine

As the wine industry develops, fruit wine industry will also have a big niche on a national level. Fruit preservation is a big problem in India and a vast majority of fruit goes waste if not consumed within a few days. This also means that the fruit wine making ought to be encouraged in the proximity of where fruit is grown and is known to go waste; also the price of the raw material can be the lowest when it is consumed at a distance close to the growing region. Chikoo orchards of Dahanu- Gholvad are world famous and considering their quality, ideal to make wine. Needless to add that the quality of wine would be only as good as that of fruit.

Technology has been of great help to the Indian grape wine producers but fruit wine has been a rather virgin territory and the Priyanka-Nagesh duo had to spend a few years of trying time before they came in touch with Dominic Rivard – an award winning winemaker in Nova Scotia, Canada. He helped them crack the science to chikoo wine making, with his 20 years of wine making-experience.

The opening remarks by Subhash Arora were followed by a Presentation by Priyanka Save about the Hill Zill winery located at a level below the Winery Resort started by her father. It was a journey from beginning to the present and quite inspiring for those who were interested to take up the production of fruit wine. A visit to the winery later was a matter of great interest to the delegates, even if it threw the schedule out the window.

A highlight of the Conference was a dream dinner by the Celebrity Chef Varun Inamdar in the evening that was well matched with wines from Sula and Fruzzante. Truly a once in a lifetime event, the Dinner and the Chef will be a part of another Article in future. The delegates all of whom were staying at the Resort were treated to an experiential dinner.

The Conference was quite successful and admirable for the first attempt. Not following the schedule strictly due to various factors-some unavoidable needs to be looked into. The Resort is really an oasis in the midst of practically nowhere for an out-of-state visitor. The sanguine surroundings, excellent food accompanied by the wines made in house would make a memorable  experience for any visitor whether wine drinkers or not. Being near the Gujarat border and close to the beach, it has something extra-special to offer to visitors. Rooms are pretty big and the view from the balcony outside every room is awesome. Apparently the duo had helped in upgrading the facilities while they were struggling to make the wine quality acceptable.

A special mention needs to be made besides the chikoo, mango, strawberry and pineapple wine. Arka, the mead (honey wine) made from pure honey from the bee-hives, harvested by the adivasis (tribals) of the area is truly remarkable. Fairly sweet, it has excellent acidity which if improved would make this wine compete with icewine costing 3-4 times as much overseas. One also hopes they will look for better looking bottles to compete with grape wines along with improved packaging.

One really hopes the organisers would have such a conference regularly, inviting other fruit wine producers from India and overseas to share their achievements and challenges and to catalyse more and more people who love wine to get into production due to lower capital costs. Banding the producers into an Association could be on their bucket list. Hopefully, the ministry of food and processing industry would give them the incentives of 25% on the capital expenditure as before to encourage them into saving fruit from going waste and provide low cost raw material to give the final product a competitive edge.

Finally, it is always the quality in the glass that makes or breaks the wine company or industry. Still at a nascent stage, the producers cannot sit on their laurels as pioneers in their sector and must continue to push the envelope. Success will touch their feet. They must remember that Rome was not built in a day. The (grape) wine industry has had millennia of experience. A few decades is the least one can hope for to near perfection, thanks to the technology and process improvements and access to expertise globally ...and of course passion that is not wanting in producers like Hill Zill Winery.

Subhash Arora

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