Tage Rita: Arunachal woman entrepreneur making India’s first organic kiwi wine Naara Aaba

Tage Rita: Arunachal woman entrepreneur making India’s first organic kiwi wine Naara Aaba

Rita Tage: Arunachal woman entrepreneur making India’s first organic kiwi wine Naara Aaba plum pear wine arunachal pradesh alcohol content 13 percent 30stades

How well can an agricultural engineer brew wine? Very well! Because agro engineers know the fruits and berries, are familiar with the processes of production and packaging and understand the applied science. So after working for 17 years in Arunachal Pradesh’s Rural Works Department as an engineer, Tage Rita decided to try her hands at what she had learned during her college days – making wine.

In 2017, she turned entrepreneur with the launch of India’s first organic kiwi wine produced in her winery at village Hong in the valley of Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh.

With the brand name ‘Naara Aaba’, (that’s how her children addressed her late father-in-law), Rita’s kiwi wine is one of India’s best alcoholic beverages made from organic fruit while retaining all its vitamins and minerals.

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Lambu-Subu Food, the company which owns the Naara Aaba brand, started with kiwi but now also makes plum, pear, peach and wild apple wines. It produces 60,000 litres per batch. Priced at Rs 1200 per bottle, a 750ml bottle contains 13 percent alcohol.

Realising a dream

Hailing from Hong village, Rita is a farmer’s daughter belonging to the Apatani community, which is well known for its sustainable social forestry system.

While working at the Rural Works Department as an engineer, she felt restricted and unable to realise her potential. It was during 2015 that the State Wine Policy was introduced offering support to local entrepreneurs who ventured into winemaking.

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Apart from organic kiwi wine, Rita Tage also makes plum, pear, peach and wild apple wines. Pic: Naara Aaba
Apart from organic kiwi wine, Tage Rita also makes plum, pear, peach and wild apple wines. Pic: Naara Aaba

“Takhe Tamo, my husband, actually wanted to start a winery. He loves wine. He would educate me too on wines. I was a bit apprehensive as I knew the process would be difficult,” confesses the 40-year-old.

She says being in a government job gave security and made her complacent. Turning into an entrepreneur would be tedious and a back-breaking process. On top of it, they didn’t have the resources and had four small kids to look after.

The couple discussed the idea for two years before finally deciding to set up a winery. They approached a bank with a project report to get finance for buying vats, machinery and other infrastructure.

The duo invested nearly Rs4 crore including bank loan and some funding by family and friends besides personal savings.

They inaugurated the winery on January 1, 2016.

Kiwi is an exotic fruit that was brought into Arunachal Pradesh by the Department of Horticulture around 20 years ago. It grew abundantly because of the fertile soil and suitable climate. Unfortunately, it did not have many buyers. So the farmers started withdrawing it from their gardens due to a lack of market linkages. The fruits often had to be dumped after collection.

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About 300 farmers have returned to their orchards as their produce is now bought by Rita Tage's winery. Pic: Naara Aaba
About 300 farmers have returned to their orchards as their produce is now bought by Tage Rita’s winery. Pic: Naara Aaba

Rita and her husband purchased around 20 metric tons (20,000kg) of kiwi fruit for their winery in the first year to produce the first-ever pure organic kiwi wine.

“Our purchase brought back vibrancy among the growers and around 300 farmers returned to their orchards,” Rita says.

How kiwi wine is made

Naara Aaba is a certified organic wine. Every ingredient used is certified organic, including fruits, yeast and sugar. It starts with manual work of collecting the fruits and bringing them to the winery where sorting, cleaning and grading are done.

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After cleaning the kiwi, the fructose level of the fruit is checked, ingredients are measured and the temperature is set. The winery has a small laboratory for testing basic parameters. Based on these calculations yeast and sugar are added.

 The cold-stabilization of the wine is conducted in the chilling plant before bottling.  Tage employs school and college dropouts at her winery. Pic: Naara Aaba
The cold-stabilization of the wine is conducted in the chilling plant before bottling. Pic: Naara Aaba

The overripe stage of the fruit is the best for winemaking. A winemaking unit cannot succeed without a chilling plant as it keeps the wine at the right temperature.

The cold-stabilization of the wine is conducted in the chilling plant before bottling. It is kept between minus 10 to minus 4 degree Celsius for 72 hours.

Any kind of microbes or harmful bacteria has the potential to harm the wine and the cold stabilization helps in its elimination. The wine is then filtered using membrane and cartridge filters, which add a glow to the beverage.

It is then bottled and capped. Good capping is important else it can lead to leakage, increasing chances of oxidization. If oxidization takes place, the fermentation will begin and spoil the wine.

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“The wine tastes a bit tangy compared to sweet grape wine. I made the taste as natural as possible and didn’t want to add extra sugar. It is a healthier drink for conscious drinkers,” says Rita.

“I want people to be responsible. Drink less but drink sensibly,” she adds.

Rita Tage worked as an engineer in the Rural Works Department for 17 years before turning an entrepreneur. Pic: Naara Aaba
Tage Rita worked as an engineer in the Rural Works Department for 17 years before turning an entrepreneur. Pic: Naara Aaba

At the initial stage, the winery had a capacity of 20,000 litres per batch, which has now increased to 60,000 litres. The winery has 16 tanks with a storage capacity of 1,000 to 8,000 litres.

Challenges of the wine market

Rita says the alcohol market is dominated by syndicates who are in league with influential people. In the last four years, her wine brand has been boycotted in the state. Only two distributors out of 25-30 distributors promote her wine.

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“Why doesn’t the government bring a policy that a minimum of 20 boxes of Indian products should be sold besides 100 boxes of imported liquor?” she asks.

“How many people purchase the local products? How many distributors shelf local wine?” she asks, underlining the need for more robust distribution and marketing  support from the government.

Some locals do support her and she has a lot of loyal customers, especially defence personnel posted here. The Indian Army, CRPF jawans and Air Force often visit her winery. Domestic and foreign tourists also come. “Their demand is what keeps me going,” she admits.

Rita is all praise for the Agricultural Produce Export Development Authority (APEDA) under the Ministry of Trade and Industry which got her the exporter license.

They connected them to buyers and helped undertake other promotional activities. APEDA is ready to give infrastructural support to make cold storage and refrigerator van. Arunachal doesn’t have a cold storage facility. 

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“I am very grateful to APEDA. When we started, they took our wine for a couple of international exhibitions in Shanghai and Greece, which was received very well. I even got leads from people, who were interested and they connected me over emails.

“Many foreigners asked whether they could get this wine in their countries. Good hotels invited me to attend some more exhibitions. So, I got this kind of positive response because of APEDA,” she says.

She rues that she has not been able to export consignment.

“Exporting wine is so difficult. Even if I get an order, it fizzles out without any reasons. I even give free samples. But there are so many loopholes in exporting. Sending samples to other countries is also expensive,” says Rita.

Giving back to society

Rita has employed local school or college dropout boys and girls. They learned how to make wine and handle wine machines. Around 25 staff is employed on a regular basis and the numbers get higher during the fruits ripening season.

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 Rita Tage employs school and college dropouts at her winery who are involved in every process from sorting to winemaking and sales. Pic: Naara Aaba
Tage Rita employs school and college dropouts at her winery who are involved in every process from sorting to winemaking and sales. Pic: Naara Aaba

For sorting, cleaning and grading till processing, the entire neighbourhood, especially the elderly, is employed.

Rita is training the locals in the process of winemaking – from gardening to factory to sales and marketing.

For her remarkable contribution to society, Rita was honoured with the ‘Women Transforming India Award’ by Niti Aayog in collaboration with the United Nations in 2018.

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The former Governor of Arunachal Pradesh felicitated her with a citation in 2018. The Department of Women and Child Development, Arunachal Pradesh presented her with a Certificate of Appreciation in 2020.

Rita is planning to expand the winery and establish a state-of-the-art world-class winery along with a wine academy to teach locals the skill and become empowered.

She hopes to promote “Wine Tourism’ in Ziro Valley on the lines of Europe and America.

“It’s not simply making wine; it’s me inside. I am representing my state Arunachal Pradesh,” she says.

(Partho Burman is a Kolkata-based award-winning journalist. He writes inspiring human interest and motivational stories.)

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