Sunday, 15 February 2009

India


There is a small Indian wine industry and signs of increasing demand for wine from the young upwardly mobile middle class. Most states are 'dry' (we even saw a bottle with the old warning 'For sale only in Gujarat') but wine finds its way to hotels and restaurants easily enough. In India a long time in the modern wine industry means 1984 when Chateau Indage was founded and 1988 when Grover Vineyards was set up, both being already established growers of table grapes. The third major player is Sula, set up in the late 1990s. Ch. Indage and Sula are in Nashik, described as 'heart of India's wine capital' about 180km north-east of Mumbai. Grover Vineyards are in Nandi Hills, 40km north of Bangalore which itself is exacly in the centre of India on a level with Chennai (Madras), so very much further south.

All these vineyards are said to have excellent sites, soils and microclimates but the question has been asked about siting vineyards further north and indeed Chateau Indage are planning to plant vineyards in Himachal Pradesh whose climate is claimed to be much nearer that of Bordeaux. At tropical latitudes grapes can be harvested twice or even all year round but the monsoon is not beneficial to grape-growing and special pruning and trellising have to be employed. All work is by hand but a surprising amount of state-of-the-art winery equipment is used.

Michel Rolland has been advising Kanwal Grover and the result seems to have been very good. The best wine we tasted in our admittedly limited choice was a Grover Shiraz. Sula's Sauvignon Blanc is also very pleasant. The others varied between rustic ('Riviera' white and red) and "cooked" or tasting of raisins. A Merlot was the chief offender here.

There are plenty of Indian vineyards which are unknown and may produce excellent wine for all we know. Robert Joseph tasted 77 different wines for the 2008 India Wine challenge and was encouraged on the progress the industry had made. Here is a list of his medal winners (source, indianwine.com);

Chateau d'Ori
Terroir India Wineries
Seagram's (Nine Hills)
Big Banyan
UB Group (Four Seasons, Zinzi)
Mercurey Winery
Vinetage Wines, Reveilo
Valley du Vin, Zampa
Vin & Volulor

and of course Grover, Sula and Chateau Indage.

The latter is part of the Indage conglomorate which includes divisions devoted to Construction, Hotels and Restaurants, Retail, Agriculture, Personal and Home Care and Fashion. Of their numerous wine labels, Tiger Hills has been set up by a daughter of the house, the fashion designer Kavita Chogule who is without doubt one of the world's most glamorous vigneronnes.


Varieties are unimaginative despite claims that many were 'trialed' before vineyards were set up including Saperavi, Vermantino (sic) and Garganega. The only point of interest was Grover's espousal of Clairette in a blend with Viognier. Chenin Blanc is produced to satisfy those with a preference for off-dry to sweet wines (Sula has one at 15.5%) and some Malbec, Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano, Zinfandel, Grenache, Carignan and something called Convent Large Black are also grown in what must be insignificant quantities.

There are indiginous Indian varieties such as Arkavati, Arkashayam and Anabeshahi which are all table grapes. One wonders if there are others growing wild which might be investigated or whether some of the extremely late ripening European varieties were trialed and what happened in those experiments; Refosco? Nebbiolo? Petit Verdot? A great deal of research has been carried out by the National Research Centre at Pune, Maharashtra. Some of this is reported on the actahort.org (International Society for Horticultural Science) website.

A footnote; in the late 19th century, Baron Edmond de Rothschild engaged Gerard Ermens, an agronomist from the gardens of the palace of Versailles to bring cuttings of the noble varieties he had planted in Kashmir to Israel in an attempt to avoid Phylloxera. These cuttings were from vines which themselves had been grown from cuttings from Chateau Lafite. Of course the tactic failed in Israel but it is unclear as to whether Phylloxera took hold across all of India. It is credited with having destroyed the plantings made by the British at the end of the 19th century but many modern plantings are on American rootstock for the avoidance of Nematodes and Phylloxera does not seem to be considered a threat. What happened to the Rothschild Kashmiri plantings? No information seems to be available...



2 comments:

Paul Levy said...

My great friend Kanwal Grover is a completely serious winemaker, which can't be said of all the others you mentioned. Doesn't Indage, for example, still vinify Thompson's Seedless and other table grapes?

Robert Slotover said...

Dear Paul, Indage do indeed use 81% Thomson seedless + 19% Ugni Blanc in their 'Joie' Brut sparkler but are quite upfront about it. The only Indage product we tasted was Riviera which we described as 'rustic'. They have 3 brands, Chateau Indage, Indage and Tiger Hill producing all kinds of wine from all kinds of grapes including Arkesayam for their Vin Ballet Red and Arkevati (+ Ugni Blanc) for their Vin Ballet white. We haven't tasted these wines but would be interested to do so.

Sula, I can assure you is very serious even if as I mentioned the best wine we tasted was by Grover.