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India, a country set in the south part of Asia and showing today an exponential growth in all points of view, here is a fascinating destination that I propose to discover from an oenological perspective! Its population exceeds one billion inhabitants (1.34 billion to be precise) and we discuss its surface in millions of km ² (3,2 exactly). This is to say the variety of landscapes that appear in your eyes according to the states visited ... Therefore, where there is sun, land, heat and Humans, it is possible to grow vineyards!
The vineyard has 2000 years of history in India: did you know?
It is only from the sixteenth century that the vine started to be exploited for the production of wine by Portuguese colonizers who settled in the province of Goa. They brought their Portuguese grape varieties and developed the wine industry. Indeed, today, we can still find some Indian grape varietals. Grafting is also practiced on the latter ones. For some decades, a craze for European grape varieties, especially French and Italian, has developed within the vineyards. That's why we can now taste Indian Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon ... Most of the Indian vineyards are located north and northeast of Bombay (renamed city as ‘Mumbai’) around Nashik in the state of Maharashtra. Indian vineyards continue to grow with a surface area that doubled between 2000 and 2015 to reach 120,000 hectares!
The new Indian generation has travelled extensively, often returning from higher education and professional experiences in Europe and the United States. This generation perceives the consumption of a glass of wine in the evening or during a meal as a sign of social integration or refinement. This could explain the sharp increase in wine consumption: in 2014, 15 million litres were consumed while 3 years later in 2017, consumption rose to 41.4 million litres, which is an increase of 278% (according to the Wine Institute). But, if we look at this figure from another perspective by relating it to the size of the population in the country, this represents only 0.03 litre per person while the French are at 52 litres per inhabitant per year! A future opportunity on the Indian market?
Indian wines, Yes… but the journey will be long and full of obstacles!
It is only since 1988 that India has authorized the sale of 25% of the production to the national market. Many Indian states still prohibit alcohol consumption today, including Gujarat, Bihar but also Kerala (they are called "dry states"). Also, each state imposes its own legislation in terms of labelling and legal information, which complicates the marketing of bottles and imposes extra work and therefore, additional costs to the vineyards. The winemaker needs to adapt the process of packing and labelling for each bottle according to their final selling destination. As regards to the importation of foreign wines, yet acclaimed by the new youth generation, taxes applied are decided by each state and remain a major obstacle of settlement in the country: federal taxes can reach 150% of the price and each state can apply local customs duties, reaching sometimes 30%!
I just visited 3 lovely Indian vineyards and a whisky distillery (info to come soon, surprise in a future article!). And yes, India produces wine… and more than we could imagine! The methods used for winemaking are inspired from Europe and especially, from Italy for certain areas, promising a bright future for these Indian bottles ...
Wines aromatic notes influenced by the Indian palate!
In India, we retrieve very famous grape varieties: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc ... Moreover, we can discover on our palate all the typical characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc with its freshness, notes of green pepper, green asparagus ... As for the Red wines, discover fabulous Shiraz (known as Syrah in France) and Cabernet Sauvignon with nice spicy and smoky notes, for lovers of these styles of wine! I noticed that the Indian palate is used to spicy dishes. Therefore, men tend to show a clear preference for full-bodied and very smoked and spicy red wines. The acidity does not please the Indian taste buds. They clearly prefer softer white wines with some sweetness in the palate: sweetness, isn’t it the best pairing with spicy Indian food?
Here is a short overview of 3 wineries, two of which are based in the region renowned for its vineyards 150 km from Mumbai (vineyards around the city of Nashik) whereas the other is settled in Bangalore:
1. Sula vineyards : The most marketed vineyard to date, and certainly the best known, Sula was established in 1996 by an Indian engineer who returned from California. The estate, which is very well developed on the wine tourism plan, offers many activities in the heart of the vineyards: hotel, bar, restaurant, spa, boutique and wine bar. The sites offer guided tours every day followed by a wine tasting. The guide welcomes you to the heart of the stainless steel tanks, after a short walk in front of the vineyards overlooking the Maharashtra region: "It looks a bit like the Napa Valley!". The nights here are cool and the days are very hot, hence, you can notice an arid land! Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are two great varieties of the house, but not only! 14 grape varieties are grown on the property. Sula also released an original sparkling bottle marketed with original colours called "Brut tropicale", a “blanc de noir” (a white made from black), Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chenin and Chardonnay, according to the traditional method. Visit the cellar, discover the beautiful elevage or maturation room with a surprising number of French and Californian oak barrels. The wines are raised from 2 to 22 months in the barrels. Also try the late harvest Chenin (a sweet white wine) with nice notes of mango and pineapple!
2. York Winery: created in 2009 by an Indian wine and travel lover, fond of Italy, Southern France and New Zealand, this property is located right next to Sula. It offers a restaurant and a tasting room with panoramic views over the Godavari River. This family house and its team of 45 people developped two sparkling wines according to the traditional method, one 100% white Chenin and the other Shiraz-based rosé.
3. Grover Zampa : The oldest winery in India for more than 33 years, was created by a wealthy industrialist who convinced Mumm's former technical director to set up a joint venture to create quality wines in the Bangalore region. In recent years, Grover Zampa has heavily invested in its technology and is currently testing the maturation of wine in amphora, made from terracotta coming straight from Italy, ancestral technique dating back to the Romans period! "The advantage of the amphora is that it does not require temperature and humidity control because of the self-regulation," explains Karishma. "The amphora does not bring the aromas that the barrel oak can give to the wine, but it has the advantage of developing the aromas of the fruit itself with higher intensity".
The barrels are made from 100% French oak and are used for wine ageing between 8 and 24 months. The estate keeps the barrels 3 years before reselling them to Scotland for the whisky production. Tanks of 200 up to 2000 litres welcome you at the start of the visit. Egg-shaped concrete tanks are also used for fermentation and maturation. For sparkling wines, the traditional method is privileged!
Today, Grover proudly displays 450 hectares whereas it started with 100 hectares 33 years ago! During my visit of the vineyards, the manager explained with pride the will to get closer to biodynamic methods: "We plant flowers and vegetables between the rows of vines to prevent diseases on the vines and we do not treat with pesticides after blossom. Due to drought, we irrigate. Today, you can see the teams pruning the vines with 2 stems. We maintain 5 buds per stem to produce up to 40 grape bunches per vine in order to concentrate the aromas in the grape! "
In India, as the climate is constantly hot, there are 2 harvests a year!
With a hot weather throughout the year, there are 2 harvests a year but only one of these harvests is used to produce the wine, around the months of February and March! Indeed, the other harvest happens to be just after the monsoon in September. As a result, the grape berries are waterlogged, making them unsuitable for wine production (not enough sugar and nutrients to produce quality wine!).
In India, the nights are shorter and the cool weather is therefore shorter than in Europe (after long days of strong Indian heat), making the quest for acidity in the wine a real challenge! Thus, combining the climate (shorter freshness at night) and the red clay and sandy soil, the wines present less acidity. Therefore, the wines can be kept on average 3 years ... These are not wines for ageing!
In general, the maturation of wine happens in French and American oak barrels between 2 and 22 months!
Delighted to share this beautiful Indian discovery that you can also find during your future seminars and private team buildings with La Petite Nénette...
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