India’s Home Grown Future Grand Crus?

With all the talk about the Indian government possibly reducing the import duty levied on European wine I thought it would be a good time to take a look at Indian wines and what this might mean for the domestic Indian wine industry.

The Indian government has offered to cut customs duties from the current 150% to 40% however the EU is pushing for them to be cut to 30%. Either way it won’t lead to dramatically cheaper European wines becoming available across the board in India as it is not a level playing field.

Individual states in India slap their own taxes on wines and spirits so there is no uniform taxation policy. The Indian government could reduce import duty only to find that various states increase it.

What’s more the Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB) fears a cut in the duty would harm the domestic industry and are lobbying to prevent it going ahead.

However opinions are divided on the issue with some industry insiders saying that a cut on import duties will generate healthy competition and others pointing out that it will encourage more people to drink wine rather whiskey.

There are about 93 wineries in India (75 are in the state of Maharashtra) and India exports its wine to 22 countries, including the UK. Nupur Acharya, writing for the Wall Street Journal, has highlighted India’s growing taste for wine and that as the world gets a taste for the Indian grape, the price of vineyard land in some places in the country is estimated by those in the industry to be as expensive as in parts of Bordeaux.

Cecilia Oldne, Sula Vineyards head of international business is quoted as saying that in Nashik (Maharashtra), one of the most fertile regions for growing wine in the country, land prices can cost $250,000 an acre.

So will we see a Grand Cru from India? There are several possible contenders but some Indian wineries suffered when the industry stalled a couple of years back and are only just recovering.

For example Chateau Indage was established by Sham Chougule and French oenologist, Raphael Brisbois from the Champagne House Piper-Heidsieck in the 1980s in Narayangaon (Maharashtra).

Chateau Indage is primarily known for the sparkling blend Omar Khayyam but produced quite a few wines from a wide variety of grapes – including indigenous grape varieties.

Indage got into financial difficulties through over expansion and acquisitions abroad which lead to heavy debts and in 2011 the company was delisted from the stock exchange.

A number of wineries are well established with some employing famous oenologists from Bordeaux, Champagne and California.

The biggest success story has been that of Sula Vineyards in Nashik (Maharashtra). Founded by Rajeev Samant in 1997 Sula has established itself as one of India’s leading wine producers.

Kerry Damskey, a flying Californian winemaker, is consultant at Sula and the grapes grown are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Other wineries to watch out for are:

Grover Vineyards Established by Kanwal Grover in 1988 at the foot of the Nandi hiills on the outskirts of Bangalore (Karnataka). Grapes grown are Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc.

In 1995 Michel Rolland (flying wine maker from Bordeaux) became consultant oenologist at Grover and in 1996 the Champagne House Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (part of LVMH) took a minority stake in the vineyards. In 2012 Grover Vineyards merged with Vallee de Vin to create Grover Zampa Vineyards and LVMH exited as stakeholders.

Established in 2007 by Raghavendra Gowda in the Kaveri Valley in the Mysore-Mandya region (Karnataka). Stephane Derononcourt (who works with many Bordeaux chateaux) is the consultant wine maker and this is one of the newest state of the art wineries. The grapes grown are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tempranillo, Shiraz and Chenin Blanc.

Nine Hills Launched by Seagram India (a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard own Champagne Houses Perrier-Jouet and Mumm) in 2006 and named for the nine hills surrounding Nashik (Maharashtra). The wine maker is Jean Manuel Jacquinot of the Champagne House Jacquinot Fils. The range includes Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Established in 2007 by Ranjit Dhuru in Dindori, Nashik (Maharashtra) the wines were inspired by those of Bordeaux. Chateau d’Ori is a state of the art winery and employs the French flying wine maker Athanase Fakorellis as consultant oenologist (who also consults several French estates including Chateau Malartic Lagraviere in Bordeaux) .

Grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc. Chateau d’Ori was another winery that suffered under the slump but its potential and good reputation for what has been produced so far have carried it through.

I’d be interested to learn of any other up and coming Indian vineyards so if you have a favourite please get in touch!

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