As some may be aware, the ‘Maharashtra Grape Processing Policy 2001’ ushered in a boom in new wineries, with Nasik accounting for about half of the 74-odd wineries set up-to-date in that state. Of the lot, a handful are really making ‘good’ wines. Wine expert Alok Chandra has already covered Sula, Four Seasons and Fratelli in this column previously – and here, he does a quick review of the ‘best of the rest’:
Vintage Wines – Reveilo
Started in 2005 by the husband-wife pair Yatin and Kiran Patil with Italian collaboration. The grapes are grown entirely on their own vineyards and ‘estate bottled’ at their modern 32,000 sq ft winery adjacent to the vineyards (all the tanks and machinery was imported from Italy).
Reveilo wines have garnered a loyal following amongst wine lovers and hotels. While their whites (Chenin & Sauvignon Blanc) and reds (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) display very good varietal characteristics, what sets them apart are the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Syrah, and their Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. They are also the first and only winery producing Italian varietal wines (Grillo, Nero D’Avola, and Sangiovese).
Reveilo wines are available in Mumbai, Pune, Nasik, Delhi, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Goa, and Bangalore and are priced at between Rs. 550 (Chenin Blanc) and Rs. 1,345 (Cab Sauv Reserve).
Vallee du Vin – Zampa
When two stalwarts from the liquor trade (Ravi Jain and Deepak Roy, both ex the UB Group) get together to set up a winery, you can be sure the outcome will be world class. OK, so the name is a tongue-twister, but the winery itself is impeccably designed; built into a hillside, it has gravity flows, natural air and lighting, a subterranean cash hall, and probably the best visitor space in India.
The Zampa label is distinctive, combining the look of a carnival mask with a vine leaf motif. Launched in 2009, the wines themselves reflect the competence and wide experience of winemaker Paul Bailey – apart from the usual four varietals, they have two cask-matured reserve reds and a ‘pink champagne’ (sorry, sparkling wine) that was initially called ’Zampagne’ before having to change the name to something less distinctive. Good stuff all, priced @ Rs. 600 to 990 in Mumbai.
Pernod Ricard India – Nine Hills
PRI was the first multinational to set up a winery in India, which is adjacent to their distillery in the Dindori region, some 40 km north of Nasik. Pernod Ricard acquired a godly chunk of Seagram’s spirit brands when that company was sold some years back – the company’s lineup includes Chivas, Absolut, and Jacob’s Creek wine from Australia.
Nine Hills wines are produced from grapes grown in the Dindori area by farmers on long-term contracts and vinified under the direction of French winemaker Jean-Paul Jacquinot. The lineup is the same as other leading wines (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, A rose’, and two reserve red); the wines are priced at between Rs. 500 – Rs 800 and well worth a try.
How many wineries are there in India?
At last count there I had 99 wineries listed – 74 in Maharashtra, 11 in Karnataka, 9 in Goa, and another five in locations as varied as Himachal, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and even 1 unit in Mizoram!
How come one never hears about or sees wines from more than a very few of these 99 wineries?
Only four wine brands have pan-India distribution: Sula, Grover, Four Seasons, and Nine Hills. Some others are available in only a few towns. Also, some 15 wineries from the list are closed.
Why are more wines not sold in more cities? Would that not improve their business?
Alcoholic beverages are a ‘state’ subject, duties and taxes on wines vary enormously – it’s like operating in 28 different countries. Most states require producers to pay label registration charges of between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 20,000 per label per year, sometimes in addition to licence fees of between Rs 5 and 10 lakh per year. So, unless a new producer has very deep pockets, it’s just not viable to expand distribution.
What about imported wines?
Custom’s duty on imported wines is about 161 percent of the CIF cost. However, imported wines can be purchased duty free by travelers returning from overseas, as well as by hotels holding a duty free licence against foreign exchange earnings. Most states also levy the same duties applicable to domestic wines on imported wines.
But there are so many more imported wines available in retail shops
That is simply because there are so many more wines available: there are over 10,000 wine producers worldwide, and many of them are keen to find new markets for their wines.
Are imported wines better than Indian wines?
I think that the Indian wines hold their own against imported wines costing about double. Obviously, as one ascends the quality ladder there are fewer Indian contenders as compared to imports.