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Got dragonfruit?

Home winemaker's vino from the exotic yellow pitahaya is among a bounty of fruit-based wines not made from grapes that have earned awards at the 2012 O.C. Fair.

July 25, 2012|By Imran Vittachi
  • Jason Berger, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach resident, makes wine from yellow itahaya, also known as yellow dragonfruit, that his father, Steve grows in the family's garden. The wine was entered in the Orange County Fair this year.
Jason Berger, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach resident,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Steve and Jason Berger went in their backyard in search of a specimen from an exotic species, the yellow dragonfruit.

Crouching behind their Huntington Beach home, they traveled through a narrow corridor of encroaching leaves, branches and cacti needles and into an overgrown corner of their garden.

Steve and Jason grow an assortment of fruit trees and vines, including citrus, avocado, tomatoes, as well as some more exotic and tropical species — among them bananas, pomegranates and, of course, the yellow dragonfruit.

The yellow dragonfruit, also known as the yellow pitahaya, is a cactus found in rainforests and is sold at Asian markets in Orange County. It's normally is out of season in July, but there is a singular specimen of the fruit budding in the Bergers' garden.

About 18 months ago, Jason, Steve's wine enthusiast son, began to experiment with the yellow fruit, which is lumpy and scaly on the outside. From its white flesh — which, like a kiwi, is dotted with tiny black seeds — he pressed out the nectar, which he then fermented into a wine.

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"I tasted it and thought, that's the taste I look for when I taste wine," Jason recalled. "It's a similar taste to grapes."

His first batch of yellow dragonfruit wine contained some sediment. But his second batch, which he made last fall, was good enough to enter into this summer's Home Winemaker competition at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa.

Jason's yellow dragonfruit wine won a bronze medal among varietals of seed fruit entered under the contest's fruit wine category. He also entered an apple dessert wine and a Gravenstein apple wine, which also received bronze medals among wine made at home from seed fruit other than grapes.

It was the first time that Jason, who works as a bookkeeper in the finance department of a used car dealership on Beach Boulevard, had entered any kind of homemade vino in competition.

"I am very passionate about the wine I make," said the soft-spoken 28-year-old, who plans to enter his banana wine in the 2013 county fair.

Steve has some 60 pitahaya plants in his garden, which include the red pitahaya, the red dragonfruit. This variety of the cactus grows quicker and bears bigger fruit, but its nectar doesn't taste as nice as that of the yellow dragonfruit, he said.

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