On a warm afternoon in October, I found myself in the company of Sanjay Patel – Senior Scientist at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute in Pune. We had just left the busy streets of Pune and were heading towards Narayangaon. Why – because We had been kindly allowed to see the Winery of Chateau Indage. I was very curious. I have worked in several wineries around the world, and wondered very much what I would encounter here in India - at Chateau Indage one of the largest producers of wine in India.
We started to pass vines in the countryside and I knew we were close. We approached the facility through some magnificent gates, Great Elephants embossed on the iron. All around me were vines, and as I looked at the trunks of the vines, I noticed the well organised trellising and medium thickness of the trunks. The trunks were nice and straight with well kept crowns indicating good and disciplined pruning over the years. I estimated from the width of the trunks that the vines to my left were 5 to 7 yrs old – no longer young – probably maturing nicely as they settled into their terroir.
One of Sanjay’s previous Students was now a Chemist at Chateau Indage, and had invited me to come and visit him, look at the winery and to meet the production winemaker.
Pradeep Bhunkar – Indage’s Chemist met us at the winery doors. We proceeded into the winery. The familiar smells of wines in tanks came to my nostrils. I walked through the doors and was immediately impressed – well thought out spaces, well maintained tanks layed out well, and people moving hoses and pumps with a confident and competent air. A young smart looking person was standing in the middle of the floor in animated discussion with a Cellar Hand - I knew immediately this was a winemaker. He looked up, smiled and came over to me. “My name is Gokal Kurhade – Winemaker here at Indage”. He shook my hand and we hit it off immediately.
We toured the winery extensively, as Gokal and I discussed techniques – Were they whole bunch pressing / did they cross flow filte all the wines / how many rackings did he like to perfom on the wines / what temperature was fermentation generally performed for the aromatic whites. Gokal was extremely knowledgable and answered all questions with great thought – I could see Indian wine had a great future with people such as himself involved.
The winery itself was equipped to the highest of standards. Tanks and Oak Cuvees lined the walls, and the new barrel room was temperature and humidity controlled. The bottling line was intensively manned, and the warehouse space well thought out in terms of logistics with many wines labelled in many different ways to meet the state and federal laws of the land. I would perhaps have liked the winery to be slightly more lit, or have allowed to have some natural sunshine through. Although every winery is ultimately a functioning production unit, it is always good to see some aesthetic design in the space being utilised. After all winemaking is as much art as science. I was also shown the planned space for intended expansion over the next year, a whole new fermentation room planned.
Then in true winery style, as we stood around one of the tanks we began tasting the 2006 wines – and I was impressed. Every variety displayed all hall mark characteristics – Goosebury in the Sauvignon Blanc was highly evident together with a lovely crisp acidity. I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice balance between alcohol and acidity in all of the wines. I was particularly impressed with the Viognier which had such pronounced aromatics, and the Arkavati Riviera which had a lovely loaded front end to the palate which busrt with sweet fruits. The young Syrah also impressed with a delicate but bold structure that indicated some good ageing potential – I will look forward to tasting the 06 Syrah in a year or two.
As we concluded the visit, I presented some English Sparkling wine to the General Mgr Mr Anil Khebade, and informed what an impressive operation was being run here. Indian wine is no longer a baby but a fledgling young adult.
Following the visit to Indage it was my privilege to head back to Pune and visit the National Research Centre for Grapes, and meet with Dr P G Adsule - One of the most informed men in India when it comes to agriculture and particularly Grape Physiology. We spoke of the good analytical work that the Centre has done in Investigating grapes and in particular Vitis Vinifera. Dr Adsule informed me that 413 varieties had been tested in Indian conditions at Germoplasm stage, including 60 wine varieties and 30 Rootstocks. Work like this is crucial to growing this industry, and again with intellectuals such as Dr Adsule steering the ship, the Indian Wine Industry is in safe hands.
In conclusion, I felt in my visits that India was coming through its Infancy, and the next 10 years will hold great leaps for the Indian Wine Industry, which makes the whole field a very exciting place to be – I may have to join in myself…
My sincere thanks go to all the people who made the visit so enjoyable and informative. I look forward to my return, to keep a track on how the Indian Wine Industry is progressing.
From Left to Right: Pradeep Bhunkar / Gokal Kurhade / Sanjay Patel / Puneet Dhall