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Posted: Friday, 23 July 2010 12:28
Mizoram State Turns Semi Dry

Northeastern state of Mizoram  is about to get slightly wet with wine made from the Lubrusca grapes grown  within the state getting ready to roll out within a couple of months, but it is doubtful that the quality of wines will be anywhere near as good as the PR and media reports claim. However, it is commendable that the state has  accepted that wine is not an alcoholic beverage to be shunned.

The State is the second state in India to enforce prohibition- it has been dry since February 1997. The only other state is Gujarat, the home state of Mahatma Gandhi where it has been enforced since independence as a politically correct act. States like Andhra Pradesh and Haryana tried it but back-tracked later after they found it created more harm than good. Even Gujarat has frequent cases of deaths due to the illegal hooch being sold and alcohol can be easily procured outside the official purview.

The first lot of wine produced in two local wineries in the villages of Champhai and Hnahlan would be available for sale in September with the production process already on," reportedly said Horticulture Director Samuel Rosanglura. The grapes went into the fermentation tanks last week. Nobody has talked about it but apparently it is going to be a fortified wine like the Goan or Nashik ‘Port’. As a state official reportedly put it, ‘Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA) imported from Uttar Pradesh would be used to neutralize the sour taste of the grapes.’ 

The wine branded as Zawlaidi, will have 14 per cent alcohol content- similar to the ones already being produced in Maharashtra and Karnataka and is expected to be priced at Rs.150 depending upon the taxes imposed by the state. It will be sold only in Mizoram for the moment.

The wine which means ‘love potion’ in the Mizo language may be just that- a love potion. With the Bangalore Blue grapes being the base, and Shaw Wallace behind the production, it may not be anywhere near the quality of the varietals being produced in the country. Shaw Wallace has been making the low-level Golconda Mist and Gold has been the oldest wine producer and claims to sell 100,000 cases a year, making it the second largest wine producer in the country by volume. Producing wine since wine 1967 in Hyderabad, it shifted base to Bangalore in 1994 when Andhra Pradesh introduced prohibition in the state in December that year.

India is a Federal Republic where States are empowered to formulate their own alcohol production, sales and pricing policies under Article 47 of the Constitution which encourages them to prohibit the use of alcohol unless it is used for health reasons. Mizoram took a progressive step when it relaxed its policy in 2007 allowing production and consumption of wine using grapes and bottling wine from the state , with an alcohol level of surprisingly high 16%.

As has become a norm in the Indian wine industry, there is a lot of hype and hoopla being created with statements like "Experts say wine made from grapes produced here could easily be marketed in the international markets. But, for now, we will focusing on the domestic market and then try to hit the global field," says Rosanglura. There is inherent   risk that there may be disappointment at the end of the tunnel.

Lubrusca variety is not known to produce quality wine as has been proven in the wine world. Bangalore Blue is not known to produce quality wine. Even internationally, Lubrusca (also known as Labrusca) varieties like Concord and Catawba are known to produce foxy or musky wines which are not very much liked. Vitis Vinifera which was introduced by wineries like Grover and Sula is what pushed the Indian industry to a level where one can be optimistic about the future of industry. This is not to say there is no scope for the cheap wine- especially when the price is affordable at Rs.150 for people seeking the love potion.

It is a step in the right direction and needs to be supported by the State since it supports the farming activity and has the potential of providing increasing number of jobs. Once the farmers are serious and go through the pang of marketing, quality can be improved. The Grape Growers Society has been set up and will apparently work as a co-operative. With Shaw Wallace backing them, they might even be in a position to market professionally whatever they produce. There seems to be a huge latent demand- already 95 applicants seeking the license to sell seem to be pending for approval.

The Society may do well to become a member of the Indian Grape Processing Board which could help keep them in touch with the mainstream wine industry and derive several intangible benefits. They might also want to consider using chaptalisation- adding sugar to balance the sharp acidity as the officials claim, rather than making cheap fortified wine.

 

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