Kochi: Sebastian P. Augustine, 66, a farmer in Kerala’s northernmost Kasargod district, started making wine by turning adversity into an opportunity. On seeing that his coconut grove was diseased, he was forced to make good use of it by plucking the tender coconuts and making wine by fermenting coconut water.
Today, armed with a patent for the method, Augustine is getting ready for the commercial production of wine.
The government trade and cultivation promotion body, the Coconut Development Board, has even promised 25% subsidy for the project. But wine-making may still remain an academic exercise for Augustine because excise rules in Kerala do not allow the government to issue licences for making wine or any alcoholic beverage commercially. “If, Kerala decides to promote wine tourism, things may change,” says Augustine, who was approached by a few companies from outside the state with plans to commercialize the project. But Augustine has not taken any firm decision.
In 2004, when his seven-acre coconut grove developed rot, Augustine started cutting bunches of coconuts on the advice of his neighbours. Not knowing what to do with the hundreds of tender coconuts, he decided to try his hand at making wine from coconut water. Once, on a holiday with his daughter and son-in-law in the US, Augustine saw wine being made from fruits and he was inspired.
The process is not too complicated. First, the water from the tender coconuts is mixed well with the kernel. Then, a few fruits, such as grapes and pineapple, and spices, such as cinnamon, clove and vanilla, among others, are added along with a bit of sugar, and the concoction is left to ferment for nearly a month. The wine then is cleared and pasteurized and bottled. And typical of wine, ageing makes it headier, says Augustine.
Water from three tender coconuts, in addition to a few fruits, spices, sugar and yeast, go to make a bottle of wine and the total cost involved is just around Rs30. Since the excise rules in Kerala do not allow wine sales without a licence, he has not been able to contemplate sales. A bottle of coconut wine, according to Augustine, can fetch more than Rs60. The tender coconut wine does not have any artificial agents or water that could be contaminated, says Augustine.
Augustine, who retired from the government’s revenue department in 1998, began to engage himself in what interests him the most—farming. He started helping farmers improve their practices and raise productivity.
In 1998, he won the Kera Kesari Award from the Kerala government that recognized him as the best coconut farmer in the state. His farm at Beemanady village in Kasargod district is organic, where no chemical fertilizer is used. In 2000, the farm won the best coconut garden award from the Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI).
In 2004, Augustine was invited to make a presentation of his innovative initiative at the Indian Horticulture Congress in New Delhi. With the help of scientists at CPCRI, Augustine applied for a patent. Recognition came in August 2007. His application is now being processed by the patent offices in the European Union, the US, Canada, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“If the state government grants the licence, I will involve farmers in wine making,” he says. Coconut cultivation has been on a decline in Kerala. “Tender coconut harvesting doubles the yield from the tree,” he adds. “Moreover, the frequent plucking of tender coconut helps keep at bay dreaded epidemics. While this double-harvesting gives a decent profit to the farmer, plucking coconuts before they are ripe increases work days of the labourers.”