Raising glasses: Takeo’s jambolan wine

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Java plump wine on sale at the Ministry of Commerce’s exhibition in Siem Reap recently. SUPPLIED

For almost a decade, Rus Khet has been using pure jambolan or Java plum to produce wine through months of ageing until it tastes like red wine and is easy to consume. It is now on sale in the market under the brand name “Takeo Jambolan Wine”.

This was done with the technical cooperation of the Faculty of Agro-Industry of the Royal University of Agriculture.

Takeo jambolan and mango wine business is a family craft belonging to Khet, who lives in Angkor village, Prek Phdol commune, Takeo province’s Angkor Borey district.

Initially, Khet underwent training to produce mango wine, but later decided to learn the technique of producing wine from jambolan juice after coming across good jambolan sold by vendors, who threw away unsold fruits.

Jambolan, a small dark red fruit with a sweet-sour taste, has a lot of health benefits, and is used in traditional treatments and grows easily in Cambodia.

According to Khet’s research, jambolan contains vitamin A and C and is rich in potassium, iron and other minerals. Jambolan can help clear liver toxins, reduce diabetics and fat, improve heart health and blood circulation, and ensure healthy skin and eyes.

“The leaves can also be boiled and consumed, as it’s good to treat diarrhea, and protects the stomach and intestines,” he told The Post.

Khet, 56, said although the raw material has health benefits, he does not encourage consumption as a cure for any disease.

“While the fruit is of good quality, I would not inform people that consuming the drink can cure diseases, because we are not doctors. I admit that it helps blood circulation and expels toxins, and that’s it,” he added.

Given its valuable properties, Khet said it saddened him to see the unsold fruits at the vendors go to waste.

It was then that he started thinking about how to process the fruit into wine, naming it Takeo Jambolan Wine, which was later registered with the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation, and the Ministry of Commerce in 2013.

According to Khet, the drink is made from 100 per cent jambolan juice. “I produced it in 2012. A year later, I sold it because the wine must be allowed to mature for one year before it can be consumed.”

He shared that at first he spent three years getting the product on the road. “I spent the first year promoting the product to let the people know how it tastes, before I started mass production from 2014 onwards.”

He started producing between 100 and 200 litres of jambolan wine to test the market before increasing the production to 1,000 litres.

But it was no easy task. He encountered difficulties such as a lack of raw material and production experience. Having small containers of 20 litres to store the wine also limited his ability to keep up with market demand.

This prompted him to replace it with larger vats which could hold 120 litres to expand his business.

Although he knew that wooden barrels to store wine are a better option, he contended that he was not able to buy wood to make wooden barrels yet.

“I have read documents from other countries, they have a type of wood that is used to make wine barrels, but we do not have them here. I learned from my instructor that we can also use [blue water storage tanks] if we don’t have those barrels,” Khet said.

Thanks to the support of customers who enjoyed the wine’s quality and taste, he gradually increased production to 10,000 litres from 8,000 thousand litres.

“At present, I have one thousand litres of wine produced in 2017, about 3,000 litres from 2019, and 6,000 litres from 2021, making up more than 10,000 litres in total,” he said.

Special taste

Jambolan wine, which is stored in a cool place, has a special taste, he said, adding that the consumption of 75ml is considered reasonable.

Takeo Jambolan Wine has been exhibited at food product fairs nationwide, most recently at the Cambodian Fruits and Vegetables Fair in Siem Reap in June 2022.

However, this year, he faced a shortage of raw materials and the price of jambolan rose, which pushed him to produce mango wine instead.

“[I did it] because of my customers. Although I started producing mango wine, I won’t stop producing jambolan wine which is expensive and seasonal. But mangoes, there is enough supply.

“I produced more than 1,000 litres of mango wine during the testing stage in 2017 and 2021. We just wanted to conduct a survey with customers on whether they liked it or not,” he said.

Now, he has 1,500 litres of mango wine from 2017 and another 1,000 litres from this year, which is about four-months-old.

Khet said once the wine has been stored for six months to a year, it is ready for sale. However, designing, bottling and packaging takes up a year.

In terms of the main ingredients, he said, jambolan and mango wine are made with their respective fruit, yeast and water.

“The difference is the production. Mango wine is a bit automated, while jambolan wine is made entirely by hand.

“We squeeze jambolan to break its flesh whereas for mango wine, we use a grinder to grind the pulp into a smoothie,” he explained.

By using only good, fresh and unruptured jambolan, Khet can produce an average of 100 liters of wine out of 100kg of jambolan.

“We use fruits which do not have a bruised skin and are not rotten. The same with mangoes. If it’s damaged or of low quality, we won’t use it,” he shared.

In both the production of jambolan and mango wine, he uses a device to measure the level of sugar in the fruits and adjust it with the level of secondary ingredients.

‘Delicious’

“If the jambolan is too sour, we add sugar. If it is sweet, we lower the sugar content. For the jambolan variety, Pring Dors Krobey, we do not use much sugar because it has a delicious taste and is sweet,” Khet said.

Takeo Jambolan Wine is produced for two months from May, which is during the jambolan season. The company employs around 10 workers, including Khet’s family members.

The retail price of one jambolan wine, bottled in 2017 is $10 per bottle, and those from 2021 cost $8, although production costs for jambolan exceeds that of mango wine.

“One kilogram of jambolan costs 6,000 riel, whereas a kilogram of mango costs 700 riel. Therefore, producing jambolan wine is not very profitable and takes a longer time to produce,” he mentioned.

According to the winemaker, a longer aging period means the quality of the wine is better and would have an aromatic taste.

“If it’s one year old, it would still smell of jambolan but the longer we keep it, the better the taste. Wine drinkers would know this. The colour is also different. Once it reaches five years old, the colour becomes darker,” he said.

During the pandemic, he ordered bottles from China for bottling and packaging, but experienced problems importing them, so both the jambolan and mango wine were packaged in similar bottles.

Prior to the pandemic, Takeo Jambolan Wine produced 3,000 to 4,000 litres of wine per year but production reduced when the situation got worse. “Anyway, I hope that once the Covid-19 condition eases, we will gain back our momentum.”

After almost a decade of jambolan and mango wine production, Khet is proud that his family’s craft has received overwhelming support, both locally and abroad.

With retail sales rising in Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Kampong Som, Takeo, and Phnom Penh, the Takeo jambolan winemaker has urged more people to support his products.

“Customers who buy [our product] would also be supporting the local economy,” he said.