Wine = grapes. But Maharashtra-based Priyanka Save, Founder and Director of Hill Zill Wines, is on a mission to change this idea with her homegrown fruit wine brand Fruzzanté.
Priyanka collaborated with renowned fruit wine-maker Dominic Rivard from Canada to produce the world’s first chikoo wine, which was launched in 2017 after years of perfecting the method. This unique beverage was initially retailed exclusively in Mumbai.
The positive response spurred the Fruzzanté founders to create other sparkling alco-beverages by fermenting fruits like pineapples, strawberries, starfruits, and mangoes. The company recently also diversified to a premium range of luxury dessert meads Arkä, available in flavours such as wildflower honey, rose, and jamun.
“Our core concept and philosophy is farm to bottle and we are on a journey to encourage farmers and ensure that local fruits get their due,” explains Priyanka in a candid chat with YS Weekender.
“We are not making wines from grapes or ciders from apples; we are creating truly unique sparkling alcoholic beverages from other fruit grown locally in India.”
Born in Bordi, a sleepy little beach town in Maharashtra, Priyanka was raised in the lap of nature. She pursued her higher education in Mumbai, a bachelor’s course in mechanical engineering from DY Patil College of Engineering, Pune, and a master’s in mechanical engineering from NJIIT, US. Her educational degrees were amplified by certificate courses in wines and spirits from WSET, London. Just like her, Nagesh Pai, her husband, is a mechanical engineer turned wine entrepreneur.
She says, “Fruzzanté was a chance discovery. I am from a farming background and we have plenty of fruits in our property. Upon returning from the US, I noticed that 40 percent of chikoos on our farm were getting wasted. I wanted to do something about this wastage. My husband and I started working on ideas and after a lot of research, we narrowed in on making alcoholic products from chikoos.”
By reusing the basement of a vacant building inside the resort her father owns in Bordi, they were able to save on the initial capital investment on structure. They invested Rs 77 lakh for a plant and the machinery, and about Rs 50 lakh of working capital.
Over the years, they have grown to a team of over 30 people, functioning between the winery in Bordi and the corporate office in Mumbai, where the sales and marketing is primarily managed. Sales executives are spread across various districts of Maharashtra and Goa.
Priyanka Save, Founder and Director of Hill Zill Wines, is on a mission to popularise fruit wines with Fruzzanté.
What Fruzzanté offers
The startup sources fruits are sourced directly from farmers across Maharashtra as Priyanka is passionate about giving back to the farmers.
“As I belong to a farmer’s family, we have experienced the complexity of the supply chain process first-hand. Too many middlemen are involved, which affects the quality of the crop, and we make it a point to procure directly from local farmers. Sometimes, we use produce from our family farms as well,” she says.
She believes the real advantage of sourcing directly from the farmers is that they get fresh and quality produce, contributing to a “better quality product in the end”.
After being plucked, fruits are brought to the winery and put in the conditioning chamber for them to ripen evenly. They are then put in crushing machines to extract the juice, which is thoroughly filtered and added to fermentation chambers with yeast for a period of 30 to 45 days. The product is carbonated to add its signature fizz. No external flavours or colours are added.
When asked about their most popular product, Priyanka says people choose their flavours on the basis of the fruits they enjoy, or their popularity in a particular location. Hence, each of their products does well. For example, the bestseller in Mahabaleshwar is strawberry; in Palghar district, it is chikoo.
Fruzzanté sparkling fruit wines are available at retail outlets throughout Maharashtra, with a strong presence in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, and Nashik. In early 2021, they launched in Goa.
“People who come to Goa are more willing to try different things. We are so happy with the response and acceptance we have received from Goa,” Priyanka says.
Fruzzanté drinks are available through retailers and outlets across Maharashtra and also through delivery apps like Spiritzone, Living Liquidz, Liquor Ginnie, Tully Gully, Craft Liquors etc. The sparkling alco-beverages range in price from Rs 170 to 200.
Priyanka shares that they overcame the initial challenges of making fruit-based sparkling alcoholic beverages through an exhausting trial-and-error process. They also faced problems in getting the excise duty exemption and having fruit -based alcoholic beverages placed in the same category as wines, but it was smooth sailing once these teething issues were addressed.
In 2017, Fruzzanté won the silver medal at the ‘Drink Outside the Grape’ challenge held in the US, where they competed against 145 global wines and ciders.
A new beginning
The success of fruit wines led the founders to expand their repertoire by launching their honey mead brand Arkä. “While Fruzzanté focuses on the purity of fruit without addition of flavour or colour, Arkä is a mead where flavour and colour is extracted from several ingredients and then fermented to reach its final version,” Priyanka explains.
Locally sourced wildflower honey, rose, and jamun berries are used to enhance the flavours of Arkä, a dessert mead.
Wildflower honey, rose, and jamun berries, sourced from local tribes of the region, are used to enhance the flavours of this dessert mead.
The three variants are currently available in Maharashtra and will soon be launched in Goa and Karnataka. The premium range is priced at Rs 1,050 for a 375 ml bottle of Arkä Honey and Jamun, and Rs 1,095 for Arkä Rose.
“Specialised corking techniques that are carbon-negative owing to micro-oxygenation are used to age the mead. The cork closure used for Arkä uses PlantCorc™ technology based on renewable plant-based polymers derived from sugarcane. These closures are more sustainable and enhance the overall look and feel.
“Arkä bottles are packed in eco-certified composite MDF that has less than 0.11 parts per million concentration of formaldehyde. In addition to being safe, this MDF is also sustainable and environmentally friendly, since it is constructed primarily from wood fibre, wood shavings, and other portions of wood that are normally discarded.
“This reduces waste and ensures that a higher percentage of trees harvested are used to create valuable products, putting less strain on our forests and creating sustainable construction practices for years to come,” Priyanka says.
While Arkä is a niche product, Fruzzanté’s sparkling alco-beverages are on the path of expansion. They will be launched in Karnataka as soon as the lockdown eases there, and “will be available in Punjab, Assam, Meghalaya, and Sikkim by the end of 2021”.