09/21/2011

Chrysanthemum Wine

Vien Tran is a wine collector and artisan who owns a teahouse in Ho Chi Minh City. An obvious wine lover, she specializes in making a kind of wine mixture made from a special blend of chrysanthemum flowers. In this particular interview, she is accompanied by Professor Tran Van Khe, an ethnomusicologist, or better known as a traditional music specialist.

 

Vien Tran recites a few lines from a famous Chinese Tang-era poem, which translates to: Autumn is the time for drinking chrysanthemum wine and admiring flowers in the garden. Spring is for wandering and enjoying the green grass. Summer is for taking a bath in the cool river, and Winter for reciting poems in the snow.

 

Vien Tran owns many kinds of wine in her teahouse but the chrysanthemum wine is one she especially makes herself. This recipe was handed down from her grandfather whom she has fond memories of. The tradition has been in her family for an amazing 100 years. This special chrysanthemum wine is traditionally called hoang hoa tuu, made from Indian chrysanthemums and sticky rice and buried underground in a container for six to ten years. 

 

Wine-making used to be a tradition in Vietnam, a special culture that is dying through the years. Today, only a few families are left still practice wine-making, trying to pass it on to their younger generations in hope of keeping the wonderful Vietnamese tradition alive forever. In Vietnam history, Confucian scholars used to unearth these wine containers from the ground on special occasions, particularly on September 9 on the lunar calendar, which is the time when the chrysanthemum flower blooms and the gardens are abloom with the bright yellow color of the flower.

 

Chrysanthemum wine is drank best in autumn, spring, during special occasions like reunions and departures of family and friends. It is often drank in a white, shallow bowl decorated with some flowers to further emphasize the beautiful color and smell of the flower. It is made by picking the best flowers in the garden and drying them under the shade to retain their yellow color and scent. Rainwater is used to cook the wine.

 

Tran admits to not being a professional wine researcher, but her long family tradition of preparing the special wine has earned her enough and the sufficient knowledge about chrysanthemum wine. In fact, many people visit her teahouse just to get a taste of this special wine mixture. Moreover, Tran has spent years traveling and collecting the best wines and teas all over the world, thus carrying with her as well stories about how these concoctions were made from generation to generation.

 

Tran opened her peaceful teahouse named Huong Tra Viet amid the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh city in hope of preserving the seemingly dying tradition of wine-making. In fact, she holds flower arrangement and wine-and-tea appreciation classes at her teahouse itself, not to make money but to teach the art and beauty of this beautiful Vietnamese tradition in hope of making people see the beauty and importance of such a lifelong culture.