A Mizo folk tale tells the story of a maiden, Chawngvungi, famed far and wide for her beauty. Sawngkhara, a powerful Mizo clan leader, was smitten. But he was considered ugly, a beast. He sought to dazzle her, but nothing worked until the elders took pity, bestowing him with a gift: Zawlaidi, a love potion. Sawngkhara dabbed a bit on to a broom. Chawngvungi touched the broom and fell madly in love with him.
Today, Zawlaidi lends its name to a wine from Mizoram known for its musky, port-wine-like flavour. It’s produced by the Champhai & Hnahlan Grape Winery, with twin vineyards spread across the two respective villages. The plump grape, known as Bangalore Blue or Labrusca, is picked by hundreds of farmers from the Champhai Grape Growers Society, a collective spread across ten villages. The grapes are then dried, juiced or fermented into wine.
First released in 2010, Zawlaidi today faces challenges ranging from a return of prohibition in the state to rising grape prices and a shortage of glass bottles.
Alcohol is not new to Mizoram, though the locals took time to acquire a taste for wine. Zu, a liquor fermented from rice and other grains by adding yeast, has been part of ceremonial and religious customs. On festive occasions, or after a successful hunt, alcoholic beverages were customary. This started changing as Christianity made inroads in the 19th century.
Excessive drinking gave liquor a bad name and for many years after independence, the state enforced prohibition. This had its own effects, however, leading to a rise in smuggled liquor and drugs. In 2007, the government relaxed The Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995, allowing liquor production with higher alcohol content. The restrictions were fully lifted in 2015.
In 2019, however, the state returned to prohibition. The government now keeps tabs on production and sets a quota for distribution to licensed vendors within the state.
But this is not the only hurdle the winery had to overcome. The factory that supplied glass bottles to them has gone bankrupt forcing them to find an alternative design, and grape prices have risen from ₹30 to ₹50 per kilogram since 2016, which puts pressure on the profits of an already low-cost wine. Due to this, they had to release Champwine, a cheaper substitute to Zawlaidi, sold within Mizoram at ₹300. Both the wines are not available outside the state.
But the wineries are not giving up. The silver lining, says winery factory manager Lalduhawma, is that wine is finally becoming popular in the state, giving wings to their dreams.
Nightcap is a weekly column on drinks. Varud Gupta is the author of Bhagwaan ke Pakwaan and Chhotu. @varudgupta