Tasting Co Tu people’s wine
Update: Jul 21, 2015
Having heard about the fame of the wine made by Co Tu ethnic minority in the mountainous district of Tay Giang in Quang Nam Province, we took a trip there to learn more about the unique beverage.

Following National Highway 14G, we arrived at Prao Town of Dong Giang District before we went along Ho Chi Minh Road that snakes along the Truong Son Mountain Range. At some sections, the mountain is impressively high, hence Tay Giang is called “the gate to heaven” by local people. As guided, we came to Bhalee Commune, which is claimed to be home to the wine.

A Co Tu native told us the way to the farm of an old man named Ploong Cril. A green valley with terraced paddy fields and solitary fishtail palm trees releasing a pleasant smell blew away all tiredness we had during the bumpy ride.

According to Ploong Cril, 69, Co Tu ethnic people have made many different types of wine but the one got from water inside of forest tree trunks is their specialty. 

Normally, the special wine is made from water from solitary fishtail palm, sugar palm, and rattan trees. It is extolled by Co Tu elders as the wine of God.

Among them, the wine from solitary fishtail palm trees is the best in Truong Son mountainous area.

In order to extract water from solitary fishtail palm trees, experienced people will inspect trees to see if they have sufficient water. Then, they build a ladder-like frame that is used to climb up chosen trees and bore their trunks. After several days of boring little by little, water will come out into a bamboo tube. Inside the tube, people put the peel of a tree called “apang” to help ferment the liquid. One solitary fishtail palm tree can start producing water at the age of six or seven with 10-15 liters of water per day.

Ploong Cril climbed up a tree and got fresh solitary fishtail palm wine to invite us. The aroma and the slightly acrid taste of the wine quickly invaded our tongues and noses just like champagne.

“Wine from solitary fishtail palm trees can be kept for several months but tree peels for fermentation should be changed frequently. In addition, it is a taboo to pour the unused solitary fishtail palm wine into hot ashes from wood fire because we believe that will make God punish us by preventing trees from turning out water,” he said.

In case the wine is made particularly for women or children, people will not put peels of the apang tree in solitary fishtail palm tree water to keep its original taste that is as sweet as sugar.

It is also believed by Co Tu people that wine from trees makes men physically fit and women beautiful even when they do not absorb enough essential nutrients in their daily diets.

Almost all villages of Co Tu people in Quang Nam Province on the central coast are home to sugar palm plants but solitary fishtail palm trees can only be found in Tay Giang District.

Foreign travelers passing by Tay Giang District on the way from HCMC to the nation’s north are often invited to taste the unique wine of Co Tu people.