‘Chikoo’ in a bottle
What is a chikoo?” was Canadian oenologist Dominic Rivard’s first reaction, when he was approached to make wine from the fruit.
Grown extensively in the Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh belt, he found it sweet, laden with caramel notes and a high pH value which aids free fermentation. “A good thing, if you want to make wine out of it,” he points out, adding that he took up the challenge and moved to Bordi, around 10km from Dahanu, to help winery owners Nagesh Pai and Priyanka Save launch the world’s first chikoo wine using fruit from the Dahanu-Gholvad belt in Maharashtra under the label Fruzzante.
“The weather was ideal for the fruit to flourish in India,” he explains, adding that the chikoo, originally grown in Mexico and South America, was introduced to India by a missionary and taken to Dahanu by a Parsi nature lover, Ardeshir Irani, in 1901.
The caramel and vanilla notes, along with the natural sweetness, lend themselves to a smooth, light drink and, after a lot of experimentation, they zeroed in on a sparkling cider-style wine because it is easily palatable, leaning towards beer-like qualities.
Unlike grape wine that seldom tastes of the fruit, the first nosing of chikoo wine fills our sensory buds with the aroma of the sweet fruit.
We tried the wine at its launch at the Pali Village Café, Mumbai. We also tasted it in a cocktail called the CnT (chikoo wine and tonic). The bitterness of the tonic balances the sweetness of the chikoo beautifully, making it a smooth drink to sip. In a pilsner glass as a cider, it has a denser body, giving a well-rounded nectar finish.
The process takes three-five months from fruit to bottle. Chikoo, a low-maintenance fruit that grows round the year, ripens best at 21 degrees Celsius.
The plant in Bordi has four fermentation tanks, one carbonation tank, a fruit press, a fruit mill, and the heart of their winery, a ripening chamber. “We maintain a temperature of 21 degrees here. Without this, it is not possible to make good wine. After a four-day process of ripening the chikoo, they are ready to crush. Twelve tonnes of chikoo give us 9,000 litres of wine, out of which 4,500 litres is pure chikoo juice as we dilute the thick pulp with water. If we let the entire batch ferment, the alcohol content will be very high. Right now, we maintain it at 8%,” says Pai.
Rivard’s role involves working closely with the on-site wine maker, finalizing product formulations, conceptualizing methods of production, and quality control. “The fruit in itself doesn’t lend to good wine. We have to target the level of acid to balance the sugar and fruit intensity. Full fermentation is carried out using natural sugars and then cane sugar is used to balance sweetness. Special enzymes, yeast, nutrition for yeast are added ingredients,” says the Canadian, who has been travelling to different parts of the world for the last 25 years to make fruit wine.
“It pairs well with medium to heavy cheeses as it has enough acidity and gas to cut through fat. Since it has a natural sweetness, it is excellent with Asian and Indian food, too,” says Rivard.
A cinnamon- and ginger-flavoured chikoo wine is fermenting in the tanks right now, while the plain chikoo wine flavour is available at leading retail stores in Mumbai for Rs255 (330ml). Next, the team will turn its attention to wild Rajapuri mangoes for a honey-based dessert wine. But chikoo, says Rivard, makes it to the top of the list of exotic fruits he has ever worked with!