Wine story: No sour grapes, this!

Wine story: No sour grapes, this!

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN  India is not far behind on the wine trail, says Michael Patrao, who details the birth and rise of vineyards in the country.

Wine production and enjoying the drink has been known to mankind for centuries. The Roman, Egyptian and Greek civilisations used to make wine thousands of years ago.

So much so that they even had two Gods of wine — the Greek god Dionysus and the Roman god Bacchus.

Viticulture in India has a long history, dating back to the time of the Indus Valley civilisation when grapevines were believed to have been introduced from Persia. Winemaking has existed throughout most of India’s history, but was particularly encouraged during the time of the Portuguese and British colonisation of the subcontinent.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a revival of the Indian wine industry took place as international influences and the growing middle-class increased demand for the beverage.

In the 16th century, Portuguese colonists in Goa introduced port-style wine and the production of fortified wines soon spread to other regions. Under the British rule during the Victorian era, viticulture and winemaking were strongly encouraged as a domestic source for the British colonists.

Vineyards were planted extensively through the Baramati, Kashmir and Surat regions. In 1883, at the Calcutta International Exhibition, Indian wines were showcased to a favourable reception. The Indian wine industry was reaching its peak by the time the Phylloxera epidemic made its way to country and devastated its vineyards. It was a long road for the Indian wine industry to recover from the devastation at the end of the 19th century.

The turning part of the modern Indian wine industry occurred in the early 1980s with the founding of Chateau Indage in  Maharashtra. With the assistance of French winemakers, Chateau Indage began to import Vitis vinifera grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Ugni blanc and started making still and sparkling wines. Other wineries soon followed as the emergence of India’s growing middle class fuelled the growth and development of the Indian wine industry.

While a large portion of the Indian subcontinent is not ideal for viticulture, the large diversity of climate and geology does cover some areas for winemaking to thrive. Vineyards are planted at higher altitudes along slopes and hillsides to benefit from cooler air and some protection from wind.

Some  of India’s larger wine producing areas are located in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh (around Hyderabad). Within the Maharashtra region, vineyards are found on the Deccan Plateau and around Baramati, Nashik, Pune, Sangli and Sholapur. In Karnataka, vineyards are found in the outskirts of Bangalore, Chikkaballapur, Bagalkot and Bijapur.

India is home to several indigenous table grape varieties that can also be used in wine production, with Anabeshahi, Arkavati and Arkashyam being the most common. Popular non-native grapes include the Bangalore Blue (Isabella) and Gulabi (Black Muscat). The Turkish grape Sultana is the most widely-planted grape in India. In addition to the imported French varieties Chateau Indage planted, Sauvignon blanc, Zinfandel, Chenin blanc and Clairette have also made their presence in the Indian wine industry.

Wine finds an increasing number of connoisseurs in India. Unlike the popular misconception, wine does go well with Indian cuisine. Vegetarian dishes like vegetable kadai and paneer tikka go well with wine as also non-vegetarian dishes like chicken tikka, kebabs, biriyani and tandoori chicken.
Wine tourism, which is popular in western countries is now gaining ground in India.

It can consist of visits to wineries, vineyards and restaurants known to offer unique vintages, as well as organised wine tours, wine festivals or other special events. Wine tourism is promoted not only by “old world” producers such as Spain, Portugal, Hungary, France or Italy, but also for the so-called “new world wine” regions such as Australia, Argentina, Chile, United States or South Africa.

Wine tourism is a great way to learn about the people, culture, heritage, and customs of an area. Also, these areas tend to be off the beaten tourist track. Wine tourism can expose travellers to new and interesting areas. Getting out and visiting wine producers provide contact with local farmers and artisans who care deeply about the area. Wine growers are farmers, and their perspective on the local area, and life in general, tends to be different from other locals typically encountered while travelling.

In India, wine tours are conducted at the Sula Vineyards on the outskirts of Nasik; Chateau Indage on the outskirts of Narayangaon; Chateau d’Ori at the base of the picturesque Nhera-Ori hills at Dindori near Nashik and on the Nashik-Dindori Road and Valle de Vin/Zampa Wines in Sanjegaon in Maharashtra.

Mohan Rao, a wine consultant, takes oenophiles and even novices on a wine trail at Heritage Winery, a short drive from Bangalore on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway in Channapatna taluk. “There are two types of wines.  White wine made from green grapes and red wine made from coloured grapes. These red and white wines are further classified under table wines, fortified wines, sparkling wines, spiced wines, among others” explains Rao.

Wine is found to be a rich source of anti-oxidants. The thumb rule is — darker the fruit, more the nutrients. Flavanoids andpolyphenols like anthocyanin (colour pigment) found in the skin of the grapes, tannin found in the seed are known to save the heart from health hazards.

“Grape is the only fruit that can be made to wine without changing the chemistry in it. Grape juice contains ready-to-ferment sugars, natural flavour, natural colour and even  yeast, seen as a white deposit on the grapes, which  help the fermentation process”, says Rao

A video on wine, shown to the visitors, gives interesting titbits about wine: an ambrosia which mankind has enjoyed for centuries.

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