Eternal summer, altitude, and the gyropalette boondoggle: making wine in India


This postcard from India is by Dini Rao, formerly in the wine department at Christie’s New York, and currently finishing her MBA at Harvard Business School. You can read her first postcard here.

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Wine pioneers Kapil and Kanwal Grover fell in love with wine after purchasing 1961 Mouton from Christie’s

While you can always drink wine while it’s hot, as Indians are starting to do, how do you make wine in the heat of India?!

India’s climate does not allow grapevines to become dormant, as is typical in winter. With the opportunity for two harvests, growers prune back vines to collect a single harvest per year, allowing for more concentrated fruit. Using the mild, dry winters as the growing season, harvest occurs from February to March as in the Southern Hemisphere. During the forced dormant months of April through September, the heat of summer precedes monsoon rains that nourish the vines.

High altitudes in foothill areas around Nasik and Bangalore create moderate temperatures conducive to wine grape cultivation. Maharashtra state is home to over 40 wineries, with half near the holy city of Nasik, 80 miles northeast of Mumbai. At 2000′ altitude, the wine temperature fluctuations between day and night in Nasik allow for additional flavor development.

Nasik’s viticulture began with excellent table grapes for eating, which garnered high prices due to cool temperatures and excellent water sources. Now contract grape farmers supply the burgeoning wine production with vinifera grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Zinfandel, but Thomson Seedless still finds its way into many bottles. Limits on agricultural land holdings require wineries to rely on farmers who lack proper training and tend to over-irrigate.

raoindia52 While much sweet, high-alcohol wine still exists, modern winemaking has arrived in India with gusto. Large, air conditioned wineries are being built at an alarming rate equipped with French oak barrels, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, and pneumatic presses. A big mystery is the use of gyropalettes, which substitute capital for labor in a country where labor is so cheap that they pay someone to press the button and give you a ticket number when you enter the Air India office. Instead of having a person come along and “riddle” the bottles of sparkling wine as they mature in the cellars, producers have invested in gyropalettes to do this task automatically (someone talked this winery into buying the bridge…).

Flying winemaker Michel Rolland has consulted for Grover Vineyards in Bangalore since 1995 and other foreign consultants present their solutions to various wineries for hefty fees. Winemakers learn to compensate for varying fruit by acidifying, adding enzymes for color, and making other adjustments with no regulatory controls. As site selection, viticulture and experience improves, Indian wine has both the potential and the market to thrive. The next hurdle will be temperature controlled shipping and storage.

Wines to watch for:

Grover Vineyards: the 2004 “La Reserve” (about $20; find this wine) carries the modern Bordeaux influence of Rolland and pairs nicely with masala lamb chops; I enjoy the dry Shiraz rosé (find this wine) and Cab/Shiraz blend for $10 – $15. (find this wine)

Sula Vineyards: the crisp, fresh and zingy Sauvignon Blanc for $12 is a must try, especially with a Kerala fish curry. Sula is owned by Stanford grad Rajeev Samant who is on his way to making Sula India’s top brand. (find this wine)

Reveilo: gets my vote for most promising winery and will be imported to the US soon; I tasted a great range of Sauvignon Blanc, CS, Shiraz and a late harvest Chenin there.

Mountain View is another up and coming quality producer, yet to be imported to the US.

Finally, if you plan to visit Nasik, I recommend a stay at Renaissance Winery‘s guest house with a European restaurant and wine bar next to the villa-like winery to sip their fresh Chenin Blanc. More photos and captions after the jump.

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Photos:

Kapil and Kanwal Grover

India’s largest producer, Chateau Indage’s “champagne” cellars

Sula’s vineyards overlooking the Gangapur Dam

Bringing in the harvest at Grover Vineyards (March 19)

A gyropalette

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10 Responses to “Eternal summer, altitude, and the gyropalette boondoggle: making wine in India”


  1. Dini makes a great case for not only trying some new and exciting wines from India, but packing a bag and getting there to experience the atmosphere that it’s produced in!


  2. [...] In a country where temperatures allow for two growing seasons per year, the grapes in India are harvested in the dry winters and in the summer, vines are pruned to give the plants time to rest. The main growing region, Maharashtra, is home to 40 wineries and Michel Rolland has included Grover Vineyards in his world winemaking circuit since 1995. (Dr. Vino) [...]


  3. Hey Dini – good going, you’ve captured the essence of Indian wines in a nicely-written piece, as well as gotten the best Indian wineries in print.

    The Maharashtra story is likely to be replicated over the next few years in karnataka, which has just unveiled a new Wine Policy that will make producing wine easier & cheaper (licencing, land, inputs) and the selling/ consuming of wines easier & cheaper (licencing of wine taverns, permitting sale in department stores, removal of label registration fees, reduction of duties & taxes).

    If the policy is implemented in toto, wine volumes in Bangalore should double in the next 1 year – and grow at least @ 50% annually thereafter.

    Will keep you posted.


  4. My favorite to date: a sparkler made from Chenin Blanc by VINSURA VINEYARDS of Nasik. Lights-out with Indian cuisine!


  5. Jon: agreed about Vinsura’s capabilities. They have an impressive operation located in a government funded “Wine Park” where a group of wineries can share common equipment and learn from on another. Here I thought I could buy tickets to a roller coasters while guzzling their fizzy…

    Thanks Alok for the exciting update on Karnataka! Please do keep me updated.


  6. Dini: Spent some time at the “Wine Park” last November. For the first time visitor to India, the road out from Mumbai provides thrills galore, but worth every near-collision to meet the bright, determined and knowledgable people who are leading the way to improved wine quality in Nasik!


  7. I will drink to that…and am right now.


  8. In addition to Sula’s Sauvignon Blanc, I find Sula’s Chenin Blanc to also be quite promising. I am yet to try the Vinsura Chenin Blanc and wonder how it compares to Sula’s.


  9. Shiv – also not to be missed, the Mountain View wines. These look to be some of the best soils in the Nasik Valley, making wines of impressive clarity of flavor.


  10. Hi every1, its good to read from such enthusiastic wine appreciators from India. Gr8 article as well. I still hav to taste some really good Indian wines. Any recommendations for some good red and white table wines ??? Bit complex and average tannins preferably…

    Thanx
    Abhi


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