When I initially set out to compile a harvest report for India’s top wineries, I didn’t know what to expect. With the shocking reports that were coming out of France – of spring frosts destroying swathes of vineyards across Chablis, Champagne, the Loire valley and Bordeaux – I wasn’t keen on being the harbinger of more bad news. As I spoke to producer after producer, though, I came away instead with heartening reports of a prolonged and cool growing season that yielded grapes of optimum quality. This excellent news was tempered by most producers also reporting lower yields, caused almost entirely by the drought-like conditions that persisted last summer.
In the months after the harvest, a producer will spend a few weeks pruning his vineyards to prepare it for the following season. Pruning takes place in two phases. In the first phase, all of the dead wood and overgrown foliage are cut away. This process reinvigorates the vine, causing it to build new wood. In the second phase (which takes place a few months later), most of the newly grown wood is pared back, leaving just the hardiest specimens to bear on next year’s crop. Producers in India usually time their prunings to occur on either side of the monsoons.
In Maharashtra, the water stress on the vines was so great at the time of the first pruning, that most producers were unable to prune all of their vines. Fratelli, for instance, chose to delay some of its pruning till the first rains, while Sula left entire vineyards fallow till the following season. Most producers came into the new season expecting yields to be lower than usual.
Apart from the high water stress in summer, the rest of the growing season ran to plan. The monsoon in Maharashtra was both plentiful and punctual. It arrived towards the middle of June, and began to recede by the middle of September. In certain areas, the monsoon receded even earlier, allowing producers like Sula to prune select parcels very early on. Due to this, Sula managed to harvest several lots of sauvignon blanc in mid- December. Producers who had to wait a bit longer for the monsoon to recede – York and Casablanca – had to delay second prunings (and thus their harvests) by a few weeks. Fratelli, which deferred the first pruning of large parts of their vineyards till the first rains, were forced to wait till November for their second pruning, thus delaying the harvest of these plots till the early weeks of April.
Temperatures during the growing season were optimal, with a reasonably warm October, a mild November, and a very cold December and January. With no incidences of unseasonal rainfall, the season was relatively disease-free. This resulted in a long growing season that allowed grapes to ripen slowly and gradually. At the time of harvest, most grapes were brimming with fresh aromas and excellent concentration, while continuing to retain their high natural acidity.
The first grapes to be harvested were sauvignon blanc, usually an early ripener. Most producers reported excellent herbal and bell pepper characteristics, in keeping with sauvignon blancs harvested in cooler conditions. The mid-ripeners – riesling, chardonnay, viognier, merlot, shiraz and tempranillo – were all harvested at perfect maturity, though the reds came in at lower sugar levels than desired, owing to the cool climate conditions. The late ripeners – cabernet, chenin blanc and grillo – were a cause for slight concern, as their sugars had not yet developed sufficiently at a time when temperatures had begun to rise rapidly in mid-March.
Despite these uncertainties and the lower yields, Maharashtra had a vintage that Yatin Patil of Reveilo described as “a very good year for both wine and table grapes”. Reveilo and Sula were the only two producers from Maharashtra to report higher-than-expected yields. Sula’s bumper crop came as a surprise even to them, because they too were expecting lower yields owing to the difficulties they faced during summer. However, a fantastic monsoon presented them with a larger crop of high- quality grapes, which they gladly accepted!
In Karnataka’s Nandi Hills, the monsoon receded much earlier than it did in Maharashtra, with SDU winery receiving its last rainfall in August. This allowed SDU to prune early and bring their harvest forward. Grover Zampa, on the other hand, chose to delay their post-monsoon pruning to ward off the risk of rains that affected previous growing seasons. The season was otherwise dry, with a colder and longer winter. Both SDU and Grover Zampa reported better yields than expected.
Further afield in Karnataka, almost 400 kilometres to the north of Nandi Hills, lie the vineyards of KRSMA. The area is arid, receiving very little or no rainfall throughout the year. The vines survive through deficit irrigation, with the sources of water being limited to borewells and water tankers. With no rainfall to speak of, KRSMA was able to prune its vineyards in August. In such a dry environment, the quality of the yield (sauvignon blanc and shiraz in particular) was extremely high. However, given the magnitude of water stress on the vine, it’s not surprising that KRSMA’s yields – usually at two tonnes per acre – were half of what they normally are, and in the case of chardonnay and sangiovese, even less than half!
India had an overall excellent vintage, despite many producers bearing the brunt of a very hot and dry summer. While yields are low, the grapes that have been plucked are likely to produce very good wine, albeit in small quantities. Buy what you can, while it’s in stock!
Piyush spoke to the representatives of top Indian wineries, including Sula, Fratelli, Grover Zampa, Reveilo, Charosa, York, SDU, Vallonné, KRSMA and Casablanca, for this article. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get through to Chandon, despite concerted efforts on both sides.