After hogging a lot of print space and blogosphere, mango wine news has barely subsided like the bubbles of carbon dioxide after fermentation, only to be followed by the threats of banana wine hitting the market and possibly the hard earned savings of the entrepreneurs. Would cane sugar wine be next on the fertile Indian mind?
If elephants can eat bananas, why not make wine out of it. That is the logic behind a couple in Arunachal Pradesh excited about making wine out of bananas. Why elephants, even monkeys love bananas? So do a majority of humans. But I failed to catch the logic in the PTI report in the Hindustan Times on Sunday, where An Itanagar couple feels that ‘the sugar content of bananas make it the best ingredient for making wine’.
What worries me is the risk in some entrepreneurs reading the report and taking it seriously, and get the idea of making wine from sugar cane. Technically, sugar cane is also fermented to get an alcohol level of 6%. The distillation of this fermented juice gives what in the liquor world is popularly known as rum.
Frankly I got put off and prejudiced the moment I read that ‘Pankaj brewed it seven years ago’. I have disdain for ‘brewing’ any fruit to make wine- grapes OR bananas! You ferment the fruit to make wine. Period! My personal prejudice apart, I was perplexed to read that he is planning to patent the process. A simple Google search displayed several recipes of making banana wine with instructions on mixing a lot of water and sugar to make wine. They also harped on the problem of clarification and filtration difficulty in banana wine, once the concoction was ready to be called wine.
One more patent in the chemical processing won’t hurt anyone but is it practical? Reportedly, it bagged the first slot during Goa Wine Festival in 2003 and the Delhi Wine Festival in 2004 organized by the Wine Association of India. It was also adjudged the best for three consecutive years from 2005 at the Shillong Wine Festival.
I don’t know anything about this ‘Association’ or who judged the wines but apparently there must be a few takers so one cannot be prejudiced about the concept. Perhaps, it is ready for participating in the international fruit wine competitions!
"Though kiwi, apple, pineapple and orange wines are good, the banana variety is highly appreciated," says Pankaj. Here is the highlight the problem in making banana wine (or cane juice wine, if some chemist is toying with the idea). The fruits he mentions- plus others like strawberry, blueberry and blackberry, are already in use to make good fruit wine. Although rated lower than the grape wine in importance because the aging potential, complexity and diversity in flavours and aromas possible in (grape) wine are simply unmatchable, acid is an important wine ingredient found in all the fruits used to make wine. Without acid, wine is like coke gone flat.
Someone may argue that even in winemaking acid may be added when grapes are grown at higher temperatures, India not excluded. Adding tartaric acid is a common practice though some add malic acid and I have heard horror stories about cheaper, harmful acids being added by the unscrupulous few). But that is like adding aata main namak (salt in the flour to add flavour to the roti/pancake/tortilla) and not the other way around.
If the above arguments are not convincing enough (I could give many more-but its beyond the purview of this blog), consider the costs in making banana wine. Pankaj has been able to sell his banana wine at up to Rs.500-15,000 a bottle. Fifteen thousand rupees a bottle??!!
Maharashtra vintners are finding it hard to sell their second level wines at Rs.300 a bottle. The banana wine may have high demand as he claims in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Goa (where a bottle of ‘Port’ sells for Rs.100, and the North East) but it may not be commercially viable as a business and for whatever it is worth, I would not advise any entrepreneur to be lured into the adventure.
This reminds me of the obscure arty films that may win awards and medals for creativity at specialty shows but ‘bomb’ at the box-office. If you are looking for that award, go ahead and make wine from mango, banana or maybe even sugar cane. For others, there is plenty of scope in making wine from grapes-even in Arunachal Pradesh where they are planning to make grape wine but the quality of grapes is presently not great to make very good wine. Future is bright for the grape wine-provided we are able to get the quality in the glass.