Mulled and brewed at home

Bottled Goodness

In the coffee estates of the State, wine is brewed from locally grown fruits.
Highlights: 
With the tourism sector experiencing a steady growth in Kodagu, more than 1,000 women are now engaged in winemaking.

It is common to think of grapes when we talk about wines. But women of Chikkamagaluru, Kodagu and Hassan districts have shown that there’s more to wine than just grapes. Here, wine is made from a wide range of locally grown fruits and spices like jamun, ginger, pepper, betel leaf, gooseberry, orange, cashew apple, rice, banana, coffee, etc. These wines, traditionally mulled and brewed in the coffee estates of the State, are being perfected to be sold in domestic and international markets. Women entrepreneurs, who are at the helm of winemaking, ferment different flavours of wines as well.

In these districts, it is a custom to serve a cup of freshly brewed coffee to guests. In addition to coffee, homemade wine is now offered as a welcome drink at weddings and other joyous gatherings. It is also presented as a gift to relatives and friends. Not just that, it has become a good addition to the various products that travellers look for in these places.

Wine heritage

Amongst the three districts, Kodagu holds a prominent place as the producer of wine. The district has a uniformly distributed wet climate. The British have left their cultural footprints here, which reflects in the culture and lifestyle of the Kodavas. The wine has historically been a part of the Kodava diet and heritage and has been bettered through generations.

With the tourism sector experiencing a steady growth in the district, more than 1,000 women are now engaged in winemaking. While many of them brew for home consumption, the number of women taking it up as an income-generating activity is also on the rise. Winemakers say that since they produce wine in small quantities, they don't have to register with the Wine Board.

Wine is made throughout the year and the ingredients change with the season. This art of perfecting homemade wine has seen higher success rates with the involvement of self-help groups. One such group is Rajarajeshwari Self-Help Group(RSHG) established by the women of Kargunda village in Madikeri taluk. For the past 16 years, the members of this group have been selecting the best quality fruits grown in their coffee plantations and blending them with various other locally sourced ingredients to make homemade wine.

RSHG is one of the first such groups to be formed by the Coffee Board of India. With 18 women entrepreneurs in its fold, two women work every day to ensure continuous production. “The health benefits of these wines are significant. For instance, black plum has positive effects on controlling diabetes and ginger has several medicinal effects,” says Jarina Uthappa, president of RSHG. Members Saroja Kalappa, Girija Chermanna and Gowramma Kaverappa say that over the years, there is an increase in tourist footfall to their shop, which is located on the route from Madikeri to Bhagamandala. And, many consider this outlet as a must-stop place for tourists.

The process 

Sugar and the fruit of choice are added to boiled water and stirred at regular intervals for a period of five days. Then it is kept for 25 days, after which the fruit and sugar mixture is filtered into a bottle without any traces of the pulp being mixed. In order to separate the pulp from the liquid, Muslin cloth is used in the filtration process.

Only good quality fruits are used in winemaking. They do not use alcohol, yeast or any other form of preservatives during preparation. Of late, sugarless wine is also prepared. Customers can buy their products after tasting samples. The wine has a shelf life of up to two years. However, due to the natural process of fermentation, as years go by, the wine acquires five to 10% of alcohol content in it. It is safe to consume wine up to 60 ml after which it leads to intoxication. They sell about 150 to 200 bottles in a month and one bottle costs Rs 200.

Another successful self-help group, Coorg Wine Association(CWA) in Suntikoppa, is also a known name in wine production. Manu, a member, states that Kodavas have a cultural association with wine and it is seen as an energy drink here. At CWA, the process of fermentation is carried on for 90 days. Along with fruits, they also use pudina(mint), Bermuda grass and mulberry. At CWA, the filtration process takes place after 50 days and the wine is sold at Rs 250 to 300 per bottle. 

Distinctive methods

Though the wine culture is not as widespread as Kodagu, the concept of homemade wine is catching up in Chikkamagaluru and Hassan districts, mainly because of the demand created by the tourists. “It has also become a source of regular income for women entrepreneurs,” states winemaker Divya Uday of Kitthagalale estate in Sakaleshpura.

Every winemaker follows a distinct method and even the ingredients vary. For one kilogram of fruit, Divya Uday adds one handful of rice, wheat flour, cloves, cinnamon, a pinch of yeast and little black pepper. The wine is sold at homestays in and around Sakaleshpura. She adds that beauty parlours are now placing orders for grape wine, which is used in facial cleansing.

I then interacted with two innovative entrepreneurs, Geeta Sunil and Sumitha Raghudev, in Chikkamagaluru. They have created a niche for themselves in the field with a wide variety of wines such as cashew wine, rose wine, passion fruit wine, pomegranate wine, pineapple wine and betel leaf wine. They have been supplying these unique flavours to homestays located in the region.

Bhagya Lakshman, an experienced winemaker in Mudigere taluk, remembers that in her childhood, after a day of hard labour, to de-stress from the physical and mental strain endured, people used to consume a primitive form of wine before dinner. The ingredients were mainly fruits and berries picked from surrounding community forests and plantations. The fruits were blended with jaggery, sprouts, ginger, black pepper and rice.

Over the years, there has been a lot of changes in the preparation and consumption practices, reflecting the evolution of customs, traditions and culture. And the change is for the better, she feels. She says that many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend consumption of one spoon of betel leaf wine or ginger wine on a daily basis to maintain good health.

It is very fashionable these days to serve wine as a welcome drink in the social gatherings that women organise. It is always served in limited quantities. Wine must always be stored in glass bottles and must never be refrigerated. Wine, when preserved for more than seven years, gives the same intoxicating feeling as whiskey.  

So, when you visit this part of the State next time, don’t forget to try these fruity flavours.

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