Philip Deverell – viticulturist for Pernod Ricard Premium Wine Brands which produces Nine Hills wine in India, was in Mumbai last week after spending an exhilarating week in the vineyards at Nashik. He was visiting to review the current growing season and inspect the vineyards prior to the harvest. Sommelier India correspondent, Sonal Holland caught up with him in Mumbai.
“Nine Hills focuses on quality wines and quality wines start in the vineyard. We grow wine in the vineyard, not just grapes,” he said with pride. Understandably he is excited about the good quality of the grapes produced this year, owing much of it to the cool, dry and a long ripening season from November of last year till February, 2012.
Pernod Ricard’s worldwide brands, having recently re-structured, is now represented by “House of Brands”, of which wines are a separate category. Pernod Ricard has grouped its four premium wine brands into a wine entity. These include Jacob’s Creek from southeast Australia, Brancott Estate from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, Campo Viejo from Rioja in Spain and Graffigna – the oldest winery in the San Juan region of Argentina. In addition, they also have an investment in the burgeoning market of China. In India, they have been producing a range of wines, both white and red, under the Nine Hills brand since 2006.
Philip Deverell overseas the viticultural practices for all the above wine brands, providing technical inputs and expertise in the management of pests and diseases, canopy, irrigation, fertilizer and harvesting logistics. Understandably, he has a very busy schedule, particularly during the harvest season. He travels to the represented regions trying to coincide his visit with the timing of the grape plucking and processing. Add to that, the time spent on the airplane shuttling between Australia, India, China, Argentina, Spain and back to New Zealand, and you will realize that they don’t call them flying winemakers for nothing!
“How is it that India, located north of the equator in the northern hemisphere which typically harvests between September to November, follows a vineyard cycle similar to regions in the southern hemisphere?” I asked out of curiosity. His response was a technical revelation.
“Growing wine grapes in India is a unique proposition. Climatically, I classify Nashik as having a dry and a wet season. We try and do as much in the vineyards during the dry seasons, as the monsoon rains and excessive summer heat pose restrictions. The winter season of November to mid-February in Nashik has temperatures between 18 and 24oC; similar to the summer temperatures in Europe and California. Grapes enjoy the dry, cool ripening period allowing them to develop flavour intensity during this time. The grapes are then harvested in February and March before we hit the scorching summer heat again.”
I realized I had dived deep into a discussion, rich and full of viticulture wisdom. And, like a true cynic, I questioned him about the credibility of the Nashik terroir as well as his choice of an ideal terroir given an opportunity to re-plant within India. Philip shared his candid views on the challenges involved in growing vitis vinifera grape varietals in Nashik, some of the common mistakes that growers make, the viability of making organic and biodynamic wines in India, and the need for an appellation or quality system.
“Why are we Indians the worst critics of our own wines?” I asked. He seemed calm and unflustered. “It is not unusual for an emerging country in its early stages of wine-drinking to show some level of uncertainty and dislike towards their own wines. I have seen this trend in Australia too. But the pride for one’s indigenous product develops once the wines start to command global recognition and acceptance. I am not saying that Indian wines cannot be improved but it is a process that requires a few years of learning through experience, until you start producing consistently well-balanced wines that consumers enjoy.”
Philip believes in the India story. He believes that India has the potential to grow better quality grapes as the industry ages and so do the vines. Read more about his views and experiences of the Indian soil, as well as why he believes that at this point, growing wine grapes in India is slightly more rewarding than in China, in the next issue of Sommelier India Wine magazine.