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India to export wine to Britain

Source: PTI
August 31, 2004 17:50 IST
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With chicken tikka masala being Britain's favourite dish, India is offering a fresh challenge to the nation's palate -- wine.

India's wine makers hope Indian wine will be as acceptable as a Chilean merlot or an Argentinean shiraz, The Daily Telegraph said in a report on Tuesday.

Wine has been produced in India for centuries but with help from French and Australian experts, India's wine industry is now seeking international acceptance.

According to the daily, India's three main producers have all announced increases in exports to Britain, where exposure to Indian wine has been largely confined to the sparkling, chardonnay-based Omar Khayyam, sold in some Indian restaurants and shops in Britain.

One of India's leading wine producers, Grover Vineyards in Nandi Hills, situated between Bangalore and Mysore in Karnataka, will produce 600,000 bottles, of which 150,000 will be exported to Britain, America and even France, it said.

Opened in 1992 by Kanwal K Grover, a businessman who sampled the great French vintages while on business trips to Paris, the Grovers now have 200 acres under cultivation.

For 79-year-old Grover, the dream of growing international-standard Indian wine was first conceived over a Parisian breakfast table more than 20 years ago.

"I was reading the paper and I saw that the French Agriculture Minister Michel Rocard was offering technical help to the Chinese to grow wine - so I phoned him up and asked for some of the same," Grover told the daily.

Grover promised the first bottle to Rocard, who later served as prime minister of France from 1988-91, and it was duly delivered in December 1992.

After 20 years' experiment, the Grover Vineyards operation turned a profit for the first time last year. Grover believes this meant that Indian wine is finally coming of age.

The revival of Indian wine -- Chateau Indage and Sula Vineyards are the other two big names -- takes up where the British left off in the 1890s when phylloxera wiped out India's vineyards, just as it had in Europe.

Under British influence vineyards in Kashmir and at Baramati in Maharashtra had turned out wines good enough to draw compliments from visitors to the Great Calcutta Exhibition of 1884.

The success of burgeoning exports is mirrored at home, where consumption is increasing at the rate of 35 per cent a year, the daily said.

According to the report there are, however, two obvious impediments to India joining the front rank of wine-growing nations.

The first is technical, as temperatures do not fall low enough at night, which affects the colour and composition of the grapes.

The second is a 250 per cent tax regime that means a bottle of wine produced for 1.75 pounds is prohibitively expensive for most Indians as it retails at almost £6.

Grover, however, is optimistic about the future of Indian wines. "I truly believe that one day our sauvignon blanc will rival some of the great Pouilly Fumes of France," he told the daily.
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