Cheers! Maha strawberry farmers get into winemaking

This summer, tourists can look forward to some strawberry wine in addition to the usual strawberry products

This summer, tourists can look forward to some strawberry wine in addition to the usual strawberry products. Strawberry farmers in Maharashtra have now decided to get into winemaking.

India’s wine industry, which is barely over a decade old, has just begun to make its presence felt in a market dominated by spirits. Of late, globally there has been a trend where fruits other than grapes are being used for making wine. An entirely new market is opening up for fruit wines in the country.

According to Babasaheb Bhilare, president, Strawberry Growers Association of India, this is the first time farmers are making an effort of this kind. Paperwork is in progress and tests are also taking place, Bhilare said.

Claiming that this kind of wine should open up new revenue streams for farmers, Bhilare told FE that once the approvals are in place, work on the branding will also be undertaken and the wine should be in the market by either May or June.

Rhythm Winery, a part of Hill Crest Foods and Beverages based out of Pune, is already making Kiwi wines for the first time in the country. This winery had first come out with pineapple and strawberry wines. Akalpit Prabhune, director, Hill Crest Foods and Beverages, says there are plans to launch peach and plum wines for the first time in the next couple of months.

The Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, Dapoli, in Maharashtra has done considerable work on fruits such as mango and kokum. Nirvana Biosys, which has set up the first winery in north India makes red, white, sparkling, port, lychee and mango wines.

Globally, cider, which is made from apple juice, is being made for centuries and very famous in the UK, France and North America. Canada, New Zealand and Australia are leaders in fruit wines and have successfully marketed their wines internationally.

At present, the overall wine market in the country is around 1.2 to 1.5 million cases (one case is of 9 litres). Fruit wines comprise 3 to 5% of world wine production and virtually an untapped market in India. In the next 3-5 years this concept will grow and reach about 10-12% of the overall wine consumption which is about 0.2 million cases.

The concept of fruit wines is, however, not devoid of grape content. Fruit wine is basically wine made from fruits other than grapes. Some Indian fruits which are suitable for the Indian climate and soil with natural aroma and flavour have the potential to make a good wine. However, fruit wines use grape juice as a base which gives structure to these wines while retaining its original flavours and qualities, Prabhune explained, adding that farmers should do a serious job on the wines so that they get a good market.

Bhilare, however, was not very keen to share details on whether the strawberry wine would contain a blend of grapes as well.

India Grape Processing Board (IGPB) is also encouraging production of such different kind of wines which will be popular in the market.

Prabhune, who established his winery in 2010, started with strawberry and pineapple wines and has been selling 200-250 cases a month. Fruit wines are a fairly new concept that will not only appeal to the Indian palate but could also provide a solution to the problem of agri-produce preservation in the country. Nationally around 18% of the total fruit and vegetable is wasted, he said quoting data by Emerson Consultancy.

In Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani, this year, around 3,000 acres have been planted and the yield was expected to touch 30,000 tonne, Bhilare said. The association was expecting surplus yield since farmers had planted strawberries on an additional 1,000-1,500 acres. However, the yield has been impacted at the flowering stage due to the rains. Initially selling at R150 per kg, the rate usually falls to R50 kg towards the end of the season in January.

Around 2,000 farmers are involved in strawberry cultivation. Satara district accounts for the country’s 80% strawberry production and the fruit is grown mainly in Mahabaleshwar, Wai and Panchagani areas. The rest comes from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

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