Roatan Divemaster and Honduran Engineer Team Up To Market Cashew Libation
When Ryan Saunders, a Canadian divemaster, contacted Carlos Talavera, a Honduran biochemical engineer, in June 2011 to request samples of Talavera’s cashew fruit wine, which he first heard about from a friend at a Roatan bar, neither man expected to forge a lasting business partnership. Now they aspire to place Honduras on the world wine map through online sales of their ACAXU’ brand.
Acaxu’, produced in Tegucigalpa, debuted in Roatan in January 2012. When people travel to different countries, they like to sample the various cultures. There is no point in creating an exotic libation which tastes foul that people will only buy once, never wanting to sip it again. Acaxu’ stands apart from other tropical fruit wines, most of which are cloudy, extremely sweet and strong smelling. The dry version of Acaxu’ is dry enough to suit a Chardonnay drinker. The semi-dry, the most popular version is sweeter, like a German Riesling. The sweet version is not quite as sweet as an ice wine. All three are much drier than Belizean cashew wine, which is closer to liqueur in weight and sweetness than wine.
The Acaxu’ production and distribution chain is completely Honduran. The fruit is purchased through a Honduran distributor, who buys directly from small farmers around the town of Namasigue in the Choluteca Department. It is pressed and fermented into wine at Talavera’s plant in Tegucigalpa, bottled and shipped to Roatan, where it sells for $13 – $15 a bottle in restaurants. Penelope’s Island Emporium offers this wine at the introductory rate of $12.00 a bottle.
Currently demand is far outstripping supply. They are now working to expand distribution to Utila and Guanaja, then to Costa Rica.
Telavera began making wine from cashew fruit in the 1980’s in the kitchen of his old family house in Llanos del Potrero, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. He had been looking for ways to use the cashew fruit that Honduran farmers usually dumped or fed to their cattle.
Drawing on his training in fermentation technology and after reading and researching winemaking literature, he began experimenting.
His original idea was to use the wine to make vinegar. But he was inspired by his first few batches. He thought it tasted good.
Talavera risked what little savings he had to build a “proper shack” for a winery. He named the wine Acaxu’ from acaju’, the word for cashew in the language of the indigenous Tupi people of Brazil, where the cashew originated.
Talavera was encouraged to continue his efforts by the reactions of two French wine critics, who called his product “outstanding” and “astonishing.” He received assistance from the Honduran National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa, where chemical engineering students got academic credit for working on product development in his winery.
Talavera first tried to market his wine in Tegucigalpa, through supermarkets and the Mayoreo open-air market. He encountered numerous obstacles.
“It’s a competitive world out there,” said Talavera, and Honduras “lacks commercial options for emerging entrepreneurs and small-scale producers.”
For one thing, small-scale producers need middlemen known as impulsadores to market their product. Also, Honduras has never been a wine-drinking society. Honduran consumers typically assume that anything made in Honduras must be of inferior quality. That’s why places like the Bay Islands and Copan, which receive lots of foreign visitors are logical places to market Acazu’.
When Talavera received a call from Saunders last June he realized Saunder’s marketing assistance was the complement he needed.
Talavera intends to fly in the face of Honduran’s negative self-image by producing a good quality wine that is proudly labeled as “Honduran Cashew Fruit Wine” so as to fly the flag and scream to the world that, when Hondurans want to, they can do good things. He also has unveiled a new line of exotic cooking products, the first available is a spiced cashew vinegar. This will be followed with a cashew cooking sherry, preserves and liqueurs. Penelope’s Island Emporium will carry the full line of unique cashew products.