Mangoes Go Mainstream at Healy’s Winery
Homepage photo: Archana “Ana” Dave and her husband Sushil Rege of Healy’s Winery.
If you think mangoes are everywhere recently, you are not mistaken. There’s now a mango brand of J.C. Penny clothing, a Red Mango smoothie chain, a Mango Airline and a “Mango” restaurant in just about every major city. Recent research from the National Mango Board shows positive swings for consumption in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011 too.
For Healy’s Winery in Round Lake, Illinois, mangoes are the favored fruit for their signature wine, Mango Melody. Winery owner Archana “Ana” Dave sells over 2,100 cases of wine a year, mainly Mango Melody, all made in her four-year old winery. As a result of her sales efforts and her distributor in Wisconsin, Los Altos Agave, Inc., Mango Melody is now sold at 23 retail and restaurant locations in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.
Dave, who is a native of India, says the inspiration for her wine came partially from the 100 foot tall mango tree that grew in her grandparent’s back yard. Before deciding on mango wine, she did tests on other fruits including peaches, lychees and strawberries. But she says mangoes make a “smooth, but rich, tropical wine.” So the emphasis was placed on making a single, high quality fruit wine made from India’s most popular fruit.
“It may sound strange,” she says, “but we’re going after the wine drinker market with Mango Melody.” In keeping with this goal, Dave’s mango wine has around 2% residual sugar and 12% to 13% alcohol. This is much less sugar and more alcohol than most fruit wines. The aftertaste, or finish, of Mango Melody is not sweet like many fruit wines which are made by adding sugar to the finished wine.
Another surprise is that Mango Melody wine has a yellow, translucent hue. “People expect it to be yellow and taste like mangoes, but it’s more like a semi-dry grape wine,” Dave says. Dave explains that the pigments in mangoes are largely in the fiber which settles out or is filtered during winemaking. She intentionally bottled Mango Melody in clear glass to show off the light straw color that is similar to a moderately aged white wine.
Dave uses Kesar mangoes from India, the world’s largest producer of mangoes. Kesars are a bean shaped mango native to the western India state of Gujarat. (There are 25 different types of mangoes, she says.) Mangoes grow on trees that reach 115-130 feet tall and the fruit is picked unripe and allowed to ripen in the sun. Dave says U.S. grocery stores tend to carry Mexican mangoes, which are not as flavorful.
The raw material for Mango Melody is actually Indian mango pulp which comes in 30 ounce tins purchased from a Chicago importer. Dave says the sugar content in the mango pulp is high enough to produce wine like alcohol levels with minimal chapitalization. Sugar is added before fermentation to bring the must to a certain specific gravity and to maintain lot to lot consistency, she says.
Dave, who has an Master’s degree in biochemistry, adds water and Red Star Montrachet wine yeast to the mango pulp. With the right ingredients, she says production is relatively simple. However, she reports mangoes are fibrous and produce a lot of residue.
Unlike most fruit wines, Mango Melody has the potential to age in the bottle, Dave says. Fruit wines usually have a tendency to oxidize (turn brown) more rapidly than grape wines, but Dave thinks the relatively high alcohol content helps preserve her mango wine.
“We keep cases from every year; recently I went back an tasted a ’08 and it was still good,” she says.
Not only does mango wine taste good, there is a growing body of research that mangoes are good for you. (There is no research on the health effects of mango wine, however.) Mangoes have “phyto nutrients” and a resveratrol like substance that is linked to anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activities in the body.
Another subtance in mangoes- mangiferin- is a natural polyphenol of C-glycosylxanthone structure and has various pharmacological activities, according to the National Institute of Heath website. Mangiferin is present in some medicinal herbs, influencing their therapeutic and preventive properties, according to NIH.
Not suprisingly, quality mango wine is not inexpensive to produce. Consequently, Mango Melody is $10-$16 a bottle depending on the location. “Quality mangoes are an expensive raw material and we think wine consumers understand the value proposition,” she says. (Recently, Dave says she sold a case of Mango Melody during a two-hour tasting at a Piggly Wiggley grocery store.)
For sweet wine drinkers, Dave also makes a Concord wine called Gam Zeh Yaavor, whick is Hebrew for “this too shall pass.” Dave got started as a home winemaker by growing Concord on her deck as an experimental wine. Some of their first Concord vines came courtesy of Valentino Vineyards in nearby Long Grove. Currently, Healy’s Concord grapes come from Washington and California.
Dave says her focus is now shifting away from Concord wine. “The mango wine is doing so well, we don’t worry about the Concord as much anymore.”
What’s next for Dave? She says that tests are currently underway for a pineapple wine and a tasting room in Round Lake is also a future goal. “We wanted to start small, we’re not going for a mass product,” Dave concluded.