The one thing I truly enjoy about the Indian wine industry at the moment is how accessible winemakers really are. Recently, Kailash Gurnani came by for a visit and stayed over. He got along with him a bottle of his yet-to-be-released sparkling wine, as much for my opinion as also perhaps a token of thanks. Either way, it was a kind gesture and, more importantly, it was great wine, one of the finest sparkling wines I have had of late—fruity freshness and yeasty richness in excellent balance.
And then Krishna Prasad of KRSMA fame flew into Bangalore and checked into the same hotel as mine to make me (blind) taste his newest vintage of Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed it over some dim sums and vintage conversations about the, well, vintage, enriching a simple afternoon with food for thought and the belly as well. As a side note, we blind-tasted the wine next to a very popular New Zealand winery and our homegrown stuff outshone it in the long run.
Kapil Sekhri, the man behind Fratelli, is my permanent man-date, wherein we both make time for lunch every few weeks and catch up on everything under the sun over wine. Sure, we have schedules to keep, but we try and make time no matter how hectic it all gets. Last time we met, he told me about his plans to launch India’s first prestige cuvee white wine and, today, as I write this, we are less than a week away from its launch.
When I meet Ajay Shetty, the young banker-turned-wine enthusiast, of Myra Vineyards, we discuss a myriad range of topics, from bars to sports.
In all these instances, the conversations, while at times brand-centric, have been mostly about the industry, the happenings and mishaps, and how it can all be improved. Of course, there is the occasional gossip as well—now you are interested, eh?—but I wouldn’t be giving it all away just like that now, would I?
But every time I meet a winemaker, we have conversed the afternoon or evening away and drained the very last dregs from the bottle into our glasses. The conversations have always been headier than whatever we had chosen to fill our cups with. And in retrospective, I now realise just how beautiful it can be to live in a country where wine is still a burgeoning discussion and, consequently, the entire industry is like a small tight-knit family.
This would be unheard of elsewhere in the world—big wineries rarely fraternise and when they do, it is a gala event with save-the-date cards and the entire PR machinery RSVP-ing to keep everything working like clockwork. The host may come by, clink glasses with you and the table setting may even have your name card, but beyond that don’t expect any further level of personalisation.
In contrast, visiting a winery in India can be a unique experience. They are definitely luxurious, but offer more of a home-stay experience. And there is no glazing over the reality of the setting and situation. The food is mostly local, always honest and the overall experience sincere. Compared to paying for cellar-door visits in Australia and California, where I was treated like a part of some group tourism exercise and served a fixed set of wines and a limited-options meal, in India I felt truly touched by the passion that fuels a winery.
Maybe one day India, too, will go the commercial way. For now, all we have are young start-ups with hope in their eyes and a dream in their hearts. If I lived in Mumbai or Bangalore, I am sure I would have met with the wine fraternity more often. There is so much to learn from them even as they learn from each vintage. Sure, not all wines always turn out great, but as long as they realise that and work on improving it, all is good. This is an ode to all Indian wineries out there; they should not lose heart and keep up the good work. We, on our part, will make a more conscious effort to encourage them by bringing them into our homes and trying them more often. Here are my current favourites:
The writer is a sommelier