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Bold wines in new bottles

india Updated: Nov 14, 2010 20:04 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Diabetics swore by Evawanda Laloo's cucumber punch. Couples low on libido sought Angel Marbaniang's passion fruit concoction. And Chrtina Pyngrope's ginger-and-herbs potion battled coughs and sore throats.

Evawanda, Angel and Christina aren't around to prescribe their kitchen cures in Meghalaya capital Shillong. But their grandchildren have value-added their traditional recipes with a touch of alcohol to churn out exotic wines.

Their unusual but 'utility' wines were at display at a wine-for-health festival that concluded in Shillong on Saturday night. Brewed from ginger, mulberry, strawberry, passion fruit, blackberry, plum, banana, jackfruit, cashew apple, cucumber and rice, these 'bold' local wines challenged the best of brands from the vineyards of Pune, Nashik and beyond.

"Sommeliers partial to grape-based wines such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot, Riesling, Semillon and Zinfandel might turn up their noses at Sohiong, Sobhrap, Sohmon and Sohpoh Khasi. But wines derived from these local fruits, some peculiar to Meghalaya, do caress the spirits," said the festival's chief organizer Michael Syiem.

"And take care of health too," added Julian Laloo, a professor of English in a local college who took to winemaking as a hobby. For instance, wine from the strawberry-like Sohlang is believed to
increase immunity while that from Sobhrap (passion fruit) 'ignites sexuality and multiples sperm count'.

Over the years, Laloo perfected the art of winemaking before experimenting with 'cocktails'. One of 14 home-based brewers, his blends included a wine from pears and peaches. "Our clients include
doctors who vouch for the wines' medicinal properties."

According to Syiem, brewers in Meghalaya owe it all to one Captain Harold Douglas Hunt, who in 1947 set up a small winery to produce wine from Sohiong, a local blackberry variant.

"Our great-grandfather gave Shillong a hobby; we now want to turn it into an industry," said Rachel Nongdhar, a descendant of Hunt. The Nongdhars added Sohiong Brandy to the trademark Sohiong Wine that's "aged in wooden casks for a rich blend of colour and flavour".

But as Syiem pointed out, the Meghalaya government is yet to legalize winemaking in Meghalaya. "The government should provide legal outlets for local wines, for their curative properties if not for the mild kick they offer."

The legal tag would make the local wines affordable too, he added. A 750 ml bottle of homemade indigenous fruit wines costs Rs 350-700.