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Nashik, the wine capital of India

Alok Chandra | March 16, 2005

Not many people are aware that a host of new wineries have come up in Maharashtra in the last two years, following the forward-looking 'Grape Processing Industrial Policy' of the state government announced in 2001.

I visited some of these units last week: most of the new vignerons are grape farmers who have invested anything from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 5 crore (from Rs 5 million to Rs 50 million) to set up their units -- and while it's early days as yet, some of their wines are of a surprisingly good quality.

No surprise, since our farmers know how to grow good wine grapes (every year is a 'vintage' year!), and one cannot make good wine unless you have the 'right stuff'!

It all started with Sula -- the first winery in Nashik. They have recently increased capacity from 200 to 900 kl of wine annually, and are now bringing wines to us in every possible way: they make wines from grapes ('Made in India'), import wines in bulk and 'Bottle in India,' as well as have a portfolio of imported ('Bottled in Origin') wines from 10 different countries ranging in price from Rs 700/bottle (Astica, Hardy's) to Rs 5,000 (Greppone Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino)!

They've recently brought out a Dindori Reserve Shiraz (Rs 650/bottle) which is to die for: matured in wood for 12 months, the wine is mellow, smooth, fruity and spicy, and worth searching for as distribution is limited even in Mumbai.

Sankalp Vineyards was the first winery in the Vinchur Wine Park (35 km from Nashik), and has a range of wines under the brand Vinsura (with a grapevine leaf on the label), all priced under Rs 500/bottle in Mumbai.

Their Chenin Blanc is medium-bodied, crisp and fruity, while the Sauvignon Blanc is dry and herbaceous -- almost spicy; I thought the Rose (white Zinfandel) was simply delicious, while the Red Zinfandel is a big, peppery, almost brashly complex wine.

Their latest offering is a sweet dessert wine made from the Symphony (Muscat) grape -- lip-smacking, watch the girls flip!

N D Wines is near Pimpalgaon, in the heart of the Nashik wine country. Beautifully located on the banks of a lake with rolling vineyards in every direction, this winery supplies much of the grapes and wine to better-known producers -- no wonder that their own varietals (sold under the same name as the company, and recently re-priced at about Rs 400/bottle) are not well known or widely distributed.

The last unit visited was the most interesting: while the Vintage Wines winery is still being completed, their first wines are likely be ready by October 2005 and will be different, as the owners (Suresh Patil is a farmer while his son Yatin an MBA) are one of the few who have successfully cultivated the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in this region.

What's happening in Maharashtra is nothing short of a revolution in wines and wine making, and the movement can only gather momentum.

Maharashtra itself has 23,000 hectares under grapes -- of which only about 1,000 hectares are wine grapes -- so there's a huge growth potential.

With time, volumes and quality will increase and prices will decrease, so perhaps what's needed is for all of us to drink more wine -- after all, if "an apple a day…" works, think what benefits a glass of wine a day will deliver! Cheers!

Wine varietals

  • Almost all wine grapes used in India originated in France -- the so-called 'noble' varieties include Chardonnay, which makes fruity and buttery wines, and Sauvignon Blanc -- wine made from this grape is traditionally grassy and herbaceous, and a lot dryer than that from the Chenin Blanc grape, which gives a sweeter, fruitier wine.
  • Unusual whites include the Viognier and Clairette -- Grover's white wine is made from these.
  • The best-known reds are the Cabernet Sauvignon -- its wine tastes of blackcurrants and tannins; the Shiraz grape produces big dark wines tasting of blackberries and vanilla; while the Merlot (not a great success in India) makes soft and plummy wines.
  • Zinfandel is an American immigrant by way of Italy -- reds made from this grape tend to be brash and very fruity, while the Roses are semi-sweet and very refreshing.

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