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Tale of Fruit Wines from North-east India

In the verdant hills and valleys of North-east India, where the air is crisp and the landscapes lush, a delightful revolution has been quietly fermenting. No, it's not just the tea leaves brewing-it's the rise of fruit wines, a quirky and delicious addition to the region's culinary landscape.

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Tale of Fruit Wines from North-east India

If you are strolling through the hilly trails and meandering green tapestry of Arunachal Pradesh or cascading ribbons of crystal-clear waterfalls of Meghalaya or through the maze of festivals in Nagaland, your nostrils will be greeted by the heady aroma of ripe pineapples, luscious kiwis, ruby-red cherry, velvety plums and exotic passion fruit.

But wait, there is more than just fruit salad in store in north-east India! Enter the realm of fruit wines-the delightful concoctions that transform humble fruits into liquid poetry. For "Wine is bottled poetry" as Robert Louis Stevenson would have us say.

Indigenous Art

Long before the advent of modern breweries and distilleries, indigenous communities in north-east India had already mastered the art of brewing their own concoctions from locally available ingredients. Fermented beverages often made from rice, millet or wild fruits, hold deep cultural significance and have played a central role in north-east's religious rituals, social gatherings, and everyday life. As time marched on and kingdoms rose and fell, the tradition of brewing and imbibing alcoholic beverages continued to thrive.

Communities in north-east India put their own unique spin on the art of fermentation, with recipes passed down through generations and closely guarded secrets whispered from one brewer to the next. During the colonial era, the landscape of alcoholic beverages in north-east India underwent a transformation and fast forward to the present day, you would be pleasantly surprised to see their fruit wines carving out their own niche in the region's diversified gastronomic scene.

Entrepreneurial Spirits

North East India Local Wines

A plethora of indigenous fruits like jackfruit, black cherry, crab apples plum, prune, passion fruit coupled with introduced cultivation of grapes, dragon fruit and kiwis that abound the region have prompted the engineer turned entrepreneur Tage Rita to craft beautiful wines.

Rita's winery Naara-Aaba, located in the Ziro Valley of Arunachal Pradesh, produces wine from the abundantly grown kiwi fruit. In fact, the first ever pure Kiwi wine in India was launched by Naara-Aaba. Her winery has received recognition for producing high-quality fruit wines, helping to put Arunachal Pradesh on the wine tourism map.

Lovi Achumi, a dynamic young entrepreneur from Nagaland, brings out a range of fruit wines under the brand name, 'Tsuipu Beverage'. She specialises in wines made from local and exotic fruits. Her wines are fully organic and special in that they are blended with pure wild honey, which not only enhances the flavour and aroma of her wines but also confers unique layers of sensual tastes due to fermentation by wild yeasts. Tsuipu Beverage currently produces eight flavours of wine including gooseberry, passion fruit, wild cherry, peach, and crab apple.

Lovi's treasure trove of finely created beverages includes unique meads produced from black honey and cliff honey, which are found deep in the jungles of Nagaland. A common thread binding these two and many such entrepreneurs stems from their desire to utilise the indigenous and other recently introduced fruits for value added products and bridge the gap between the farmers and the market to create a sustainable business model that could provide employment to the local community.

Impediments

But of course, there is no journey without its bumps on the road, and the world of fruit wines is no exception either. Many of the states in north-east India, like Mizoram and Nagaland, are dry states with strict regulations or having an altogether prohibition on alcohol.

Production challenges, market dynamics, and regulatory hurdles can sometimes throw a curveball, testing the resilience and creativity of those involved. Yet, it's precisely these challenges that add a layer of complexity to the narrative, making each sip of fruit wine from the north-east a testament to perseverance and passion.

State Initiatives

Several state governments of northeast India have amended their excise laws to boost fruit wine production and create an opportunity for wine tourism. The amended excise policies in the north-eastern states of India reflect a delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and promoting economic development. 

By supporting traditional practices and encouraging commercial production, these policies aim to provide  an impetus to the horticulture sector and enhance the cultural and economic landscape of the region.

Recently, in September 2023, the Government of Meghalaya launched the Northeast Fruit Wine Incubation Center (NEFWIC) with an aim to support and Recently, in September 2023, the Government of Meghalaya launched the Northeast Fruit Wine Incubation Center (NEFWIC) with an aim to support and Eastern Council, has been holding the industry as transformative force for ushering the local economy. Organisation like the Forever Young Sports Club with the support of Meghalaya Tourism, Meghalaya Farmers (Empowerment) Commission and North Eastern Council, has been holding the Shillong Wine Festival each year since 2002 to provide a platform for the winemakers of this region to showcase their delectable fruit wines.

Visitors to the festival, which draws tourists from all over, are treated to a delightful sensory experience that highlights the unique flavours and vibrant culture of north-east India.

So, the next time you find yourself in the lush embrace of north-east India, take a moment to raise a glass to the humble fruit wines of the region, which are quietly making waves in the culinary landscape of India.

Whether you are savouring the sweet tang of a pineapple wine or the zesty kick of a passion fruit blend from north-east India, you are not just sipping wines that tell a story of the lush landscapes from which they were made but also a true story of perfect blend of taste and tradition. A heady amalgamation indeed.