When farmer Ranjit Singh, from the Kutch region of Gujarat, unveils his wine in the domestic market soon, there will be many ‘firsts’ to celebrate.

It will be the first time wine made from the Barhi date variety is produced and sold commercially in India. It will also be the first time a farmer from this region has succeeded in such a venture. Similar plans announced earlier by other farmers from the region were aborted because of the taboo associated with liquor. After all, Gujarat is a dry State.

With Peasant’s Wine, as he calls his product, Singh has changed the story. About 90,000 litres of the Barhi date wine is ready, waiting to be bottled to hit the market shelves.

The twist in his tale is that although the dates are from Kutch, the winery is situated in neighbouring Rajasthan. “Being a dry State, there were a lot of complications in setting up a winery in Gujarat. Hence, after signing an MoU with the Rajasthan government, I set up my winery in Abu Road,” says Singh.

Harvesting the Barhi date

Originally from Iraq, the Barhi date is grown in nearly 1,800 acres in Kutch. Local farmers have adopted tissue culture to successfully harvest large quantities of this date variety, which is very popular in Europe, Malaysia, Canada, and the US. Under an ongoing Indo-Israel agriculture project, Isareli experts are sharing cultivation and post-harvest knowhow with the local Barhi date farmers.

“The trickiest part about cultivating dates is the harvest time, which coincides with monsoons. We essentially have 10-15 days for harvesting. There have been times when farmers like me have had to suffer big losses because of the rains... I once incurred a loss of ₹35 lakh,” Singh explains. “On top of that, dates hardly have any shelf life. Any seasonal impact and the fruit, which would have otherwise sold for ₹50-100 a kilo, would go for just ₹30 a kilo.”

Date growers lose about 25 per cent of their yield during transportation and get only three months to sell.

To minimise losses, Singh says he decided to experiment with wine-making.

“I realised all our produce could be used to make wine. I experimented for over two years, went to a management institute in the wine capital, Nashik, for feedback and understood the pulse of the people before opening my winery in Rajasthan last year.” The name of the brand was registered in Punjab.

Of taboos and losses

About five years ago, a few other farmers had announced similar plans for a Barhi date winery at a special economic zone in Gujarat itself. “But we had to shelve our plans because of prevailing sentiments against any liquor business,” says J Gorasiya, a farmer from Kutch.

The taboo is the only reason that’s stopping farmers from commercial date wine-making despite its profitability, says Dr Falgun Modh, deputy director of the horticulture department in Kutch. “Most people here don’t want their name to be associated with any liquor business. Still, I suggested the idea at various platforms. Making by-products of Barhi date can mitigate the losses that farmers otherwise suffer due to spoilage from rains or otherwise,” says Modh.

According to Singh, a farmer who sells Barhi dates at ₹50 a kilo can earn nearly Rs 4-5 lakh per hectare if the produce is made into wine.

At the time of filing this story, Singh’s first batch of Peasant’s Wine was awaiting bottling at the ₹4-crore manufacturing plant. “We are now awaiting the water clearance... a no-objection certificate for use of groundwater. Although we need very little water for fermentation, it (certificate) is mandatory.”

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Gujarat