meadows. Armed forces personnel stationed nearby sneaked off their base and drank wine hiding in villagers’ living rooms.
A decade later, two grape growers’ societies were formed and wineries established at both Hnahlan and Champhai using loans extended via the Mizoram Rural Bank. The Hnahlan brewery began formal production of Zawlaidi wine in 2009, with Champhai’s winery following suit the next year.
The then-ruling Mizo National Front, whose chief Zoramthanga represented Champhai, evidently caught a whiff of the brew and, in 2008, passed new rules to allow the manufacture and sale of wine from grapes, in what is now known as “the silent amendment”. The name was because of the powerful church's decision to not protest against it, although it did later successfully demand that the alcohol content be restricted to 11 per cent from the earlier 14 per cent. The wine industry is now worth approximately Rs 420 lakh, and a source of livelihood for many. For a state whose debt is 13 times its resources, this is not an insignificant figure.
Wine is not Mizoram’s most popular form of the contraband; it is not found at social gatherings apart from the occasional government-organized festival, where it is actively promoted. But it is consumed religiously by young men and women out for a night’s revels. This year, when production is less than normal, a bottle can fetch up to Rs 180 in the market at Aizawl.
But the public mood is largely against alcoholism, and the church keeps a close watch on the wine industry, strictly making sure indigenous wine is the only alcohol sold. Little wonder, then, that grape growers employ strange arguments to defend their livelihood. Local church elder and “adviser” to Hnahlan Wine Grower’s Society, V Lalthlamuana, sat holding a cup of local wine one evening this weekend and declared, “Grapes and wine are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments, they are inherent parts of the scriptures,” before proceeding to gulp down his cup’s contents.