India, the new frontier of wine

Vinyards in Nashik

Master of Wine Liam Steevenson has spent two years exploring India’s emerging wine industry. Here he reports on the region’s growing thirst for wine and the producers crafting high quality cuvées from its own vineyards.

It doesn’t matter how many books you have read, films you have watched, or accounts you have listened to – a visit to India is one of the most personal experiences that a person can have.

India’s reputation for colour is much more than simply visual; it assaults every sense. As something of an experience obsessive, it comes as no surprise that India has drawn me back, time and time again.

A growing thirst for wine

With its rapidly growing middle class – and a younger generation that is turning away from the darker spirits their parents enjoyed – India is a market that the wine world is watching closely.

Taxation and a statute of law built around prohibition, mean that wine imports are curtailed in India, but only in the short term. This is a market with a fascinating future and – within a shrinking global market – one that every producing county should be paying close attention to.

In the meantime, this enforced limit on imported goods has created an opportunity for local growers – India is producing wine and producing it well.

Winemaking in India

The vineyards of India are centred around the town of Nashik, close to Mumbai. There are producers elsewhere, but this is is where the volume is, and arguably the quality too.

Climatically it is tricky; the region is by definition too hot, humid and most importantly non-seasonal.  This semi-tropical condition allows for no winter dormancy in the vine and harvest happens twice a year, though – swamped by monsoon – the summer harvest yields no wine.

Vineyard workers

Financially well-resourced, the cellars are impressive. Modern equipment fills the best wineries and every technical advancement is employed to temper grapes that come from vineyards wild and warm.

The vineyards are undoubtably where difficulties lie; plant viruses are rife and the heat of the sun ripens grape sugars faster than it can phenolics. Despite these key issues, the end result can be good and in some cases – really good.

Sparkling wines

Sparkling wine is where India has built its best reputation for quality, helped by Moet et Chandon, who invested heavily in the region a decade ago and now make world class fizz under the Chandon label.

Watching all of this closely was YORK Winery, who – in my opinion – now make the best sparkling wine in India, and at a quality that I would happily buy from anywhere in the world.

We are delighted to have sourced a parcel of YORK Sparkling Cuvée for Borough Wines & Beers. Produced from Chenin Blanc grown in some of the coolest parts of Nashik, it retains high levels of natural acidity and aromatic complexity. Traditionally fermented, it is honestly world class and a bargain at this price.

Master of Wine Liam Steevenson is a wine consultant and educator.