Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Wine Maker

Wine is part of man's wonderful life. It helps the spirit to soar and it quickens the senses.

It is thus natural for any racial group to develop a wine making culture.

The Foochows are not different from any racial group in the world. They also have a very good rice wine making culture. The Foochow red wine to me is the best in the world for cooking delicious dishes. Our cuisine cannot do without it so to speak. It is that secret ingredient that gives the sweet memorable aroma, it is that little drop that flirts with our taste buds.

In those long ago days of my childhood, wine making was a very whispered activity as it was illegal for any one to make wine. No licence was given out except the one that already belonged to Hong Guan Brewery (I might be wrong in its spelling)situated in Lanang Road.

So almost every family would moonshine . Wine bottles would be hidden every where in case the government officers dropped by for sudden spot checks.The penalty was stiff as it included a few days' stay in the local jail and a fine of a fairly big sum.

Foochow red wine is made from glutinous rice and red yeast. The fermentation of the rice and the red yeast gives a fantastic aroma. Any dirt would cause the wine to turn sour. So the wine bottles, and all the tools used must be really clean.

The story of my maternal grandmother making great red wine came to a climax one day when a group of police officers suddenly pounced upon our great house in Lower Nang Chongor Ah Nang Chong. Immediately my timid third uncle threw the bag of fermenting gluntinous rice and red yeast into the small stream next to the house. Upon finding no evidence of red wine making and the officers marched to the other houses along the road to the interior. It took them about five hours to complete the round of checking. By that time, the tide had gone down.

And to the shock of our family and especially my third uncle, the evidence of the whole illegal and evil act was smack on the side of the dried up stream.....the whole patch of redness was as red as could be. And no one could lie through their teeth what the red patch was all about.

What my cousins and grandmother did was to put up an act on another road leading away from our house and the glistening stream next to the house. My grandmother by then had instructed the police boat to be berthed in another jetty above ours. And a cousin pretended that she had a stomach ache.

When the police came upon the scene, their attention was diverted to the little girl who was screaming away in pain. My aunt spoke in local Malay to ask the police to help give her some medicine.

The helpful men quickly lifted the child and brought her to the police long boat and gave her some first aid. I believe they gave her some lotion to ease the pain. She miraculously recovered even though she was petrified of their uniform.

What was important was that all the police had at that time gotten into their boat and they had no idea that they had missed a great evidence of local Foochow moonshining activity.

My third uncle was said to have vowed never to make wine again together with my grandmother!

But anyway, my grandmother, was forever the unrepentant wine maker. She continued to make her sweet red wine until she completely lost her eyesight in her eighties. To this day, her wine is still the best Foochow red wine I know of...dark red in colour, a great clear wine with little sediment, with an aroma that was beyond my imagination and a near impossible natural sweetness. It was as good as the best French shiraz. Only very recently I discovered a korean rice wine called Bai Ming Chiew or Hundred Years Longevity Wine with that quality.

It is a pity that my grandmother never got a licence to manufacture wine in Sibu.

Southern Farm would have been a great name (Our village was Lower South Village - Ah nang Chong). Or if named after my grand mother it could have been Vin de Lien Ti - very French.

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