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5 of India's finest wines

Alok Chandra | April 23, 2005

It is ironic that all the three main Indian wine companies (Indage, Grover and Sula) have been started by people with no previous experience or qualification in the business.

However, all three had one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for wine. And Kanwal Grover, the patriarch of the wine business in India, certainly has plenty of that.

'Pop' Grover used to travel extensively to Europe in the seventies in connection with his import-export business, and often wondered why there were no decent wines made in India.

In 1979 he met George Vessel, formerly with the house of champagne Mumm, and decided to put his money where his heart was.

By 1983 they had selected 35 grape varieties for testing and set up pilot facilities near Bangalore (despite being Bombay-based) from where each year samples of grape juice would be sent to Vessel's laboratory in France for vinification.

Perhaps catalysed by the 1988 launch of Indage's wines, in 1989 three grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Clairette) were planted on a 40-acre plot near the town of Doddaballarpur and the first wines (all varietals) were launched in 1991.

In 1995 the internationally-renowned flying winemaker Michel Rolland offered his expertise to Grover, and 1996 saw the champagne house Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin (part of the LVMH group) take an equity stake in the venture.

Veuve Cliquot also posted a young winemaker called Bruno Yvon in Bangalore, who did much to improve viticulture and vinification techniques.

Grover vineyards is unique among the Indian winemakers in that they use only wine grapes, and all the grapes they use are what they grow themselves -- which ensures a very close control over quality.

The company produced about 600,000 bottles in 04/05 and is geared to grow to up to 1 million bottled.

Kapil Grover largely runs the business today from Mumbai, with Abhay Kewadkar managing the production end in Bangalore.

Grovers have a small but well-chosen wine portfolio:

La Reserve red wine produced from their finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes, the wine is made in the best French winemaking traditions of Bordeaux.

Aged in French oak barrels, this deep ruby wine has a bouquet of ripe red fruits with a hint of spice and a harmonious oaken flavour and a long, lingering aftertaste (Rs 390 in Bangalore, Rs 440 in Delhi and Rs 550 in Mumbai).

Cabernet Shiraz red wine from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (Syrah) grapes, this is a full-bodied wine with soft tannins and a delicate spicy taste (Rs 290/360/415 respectively).

Viognier Clairette white wine, an unusual blend of Viognier and Clairette grapes of the Languedoc region (southern France), the wine has a golden yellow colour and fruity aroma (peaches and apricot) complemented by floral notes and hints of honey. (Rs 290/360/415).

Shiraz Rose' wine, a bright salmon pink made from the Shiraz grape, the wine is very fruity and flowery and crisp and refreshing to drink (Rs 290/360/415).

Sauvignon Blanc white wine. Launched in late 2003, this wine (from the same grape) is fresh and crisp and has aromas of gooseberries and freshly mown grass and a somewhat smoky, flinty character that is most attractive. (Rs 380/410/475).

Great value wines for everyday drinking -- the La Reserve being my personal favourite. Sante!

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