Grover Zampa Vineyards – Future Forward, an interview with its Singapore-based wine investor

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Grover Zampa Vineyards, the country’s second-largest wine producer, recently secured significant funding led by Ravi Viswanathan, Singapore-based wine investor and chairman of Grover Zampa Vineyards. Viswanathan has ambitious plans for the company, writes Natalia Makarova

Singapore based businessman and investor, Ravi Viswanathan aims to transform Grover Zampa Vineyards into a multibrand lifestyle business

We spoke with him to see which horizons this hefty infusion opens up for Grover Zampa Vineyards, known for bringing premium Indian wines to ever growing circles of Indian and foreign wine aficionados.  

According to Mr Viswanathan, all the developments are aimed at transforming the company into a multi-brand lifestyle business, increasing capacity, modernizing production, expanding the brand’s global presence and making the processes more environmentally friendly.

Currently, Grover with its vineyards in Nandi Hills, Karnataka and Nashik, Maharashtra, is selling over 230,000 cases this year. 

The biggest new project is the construction of a new winery in scenic Nandi Hills which will house state-of-the-art production facilities as well as a wine experiential tourism oasis. Mr Viswanathan is excited about the prospect as the existing facilities in Karnataka are overloaded and the area itself is becoming more and more industrialised rather than agricultural. “Our current Bangalore facility is the oldest one in India with a lot of equipment and technologies outdated and a design that does not integrate the new ideas about winemaking. Despite that, the wine produced here is still the best in India,” he explains. 

“The new design will be very “green” using solar panels to minimize electricity consumption, employ a good waste and effluent treatment plant plus recycling,” Mr Viswanathan elaborates. The new four million litre winery nestled in picturesque Nandi Hills, will be a designated touristic area in the middle of a 50-acre vineyard. 

Foudre with 50 hl capacity

It will employ a gentler, less interventionist approach to winemaking relying on gravity flow. This method uses the natural gravity to move the wine from the press to the fermentation tanks to storage tanks and ageing barrels without the use of pumps. Bringing in the latest technologies available in the world, most of which are completely new to India, will serve our goal to improve viticulture and winemaking.

A great example is the use of ovoid cement tanks. Now, most Indian wineries use stainless steel tanks. These huge metal tanks are significantly cheaper, but the cement ones provide an improvement in quality and energy consumption which is worth the investment. Their unique shape allows natural convection to happen thus removing the manual stirring (“batonnage”). The cement has a porous structure which also enables the exchange of micro quantities of oxygen between the wine and environment without additional devices. Another novelty brought to India will be foudres, huge wooden vats which can contain up to 5000 litres and more. These gigantic barrels are typical of the Jura region and they help ensure a better ratio of wooden surface to volume of liquid for a less oaky taste. These tanks can last a lifetime.

Egg-shaped cement tank

Grover will also buy clay amphorae to try some of the antique methods of winemaking as utilised in Georgia. Another first is the introduction of drones and high tech sensors in the vineyards. The drones will monitor a vast area on a daily basis and their sophisticated equipment will help identify, early, certain diseases, and measure other parameters. New sap flow sensors will help conserve water by allowing irrigation only when there is the right level of hydric stress resulting in better grapes and less water wasted.

Another important aspect of the new winery development will be focusing on wine tourism. The estate will welcome wine enthusiasts offering them a multi-faceted experience: three restaurants ranging from affordable world cuisine to fine dining will satisfy the most discerning palates. A wine museum will help curious minds to get acquainted with not just the history of wine but the chemistry behind it and the role wine plays in the arts and literature. Small cottages will provide rustically cosy accommodation but with all modern facilities. This amazing wine adventure will be complete with other unique features, namely: a wine library with its collection of older vintages, movie theatre, luscious wine spa, for enthusiasts of vinotherapy, swimming pool, cooking classes using vegetables from the estate’s organic garden, as well as different art performances and fashion shows in an outdoor amphitheatre.

Most importantly, GZV will continue its long tradition of making exquisite fine wines and the new winery is looking at introducing 15 to 20 new limited edition wines coming from specific plots in the vineyards. They will be sold exclusively in the winery shop or served in its restaurants. The idea is to make wines that reflect the various terroirs which require lots of small tanks away from the common practice of Indian wineries using gigantic tanks. 

With these grand plans for the home turf, GZV are also working on expanding their portfolio in India and overseas. The import portfolio will grow rapidly to include wines from other producers which will strengthen their overall portfolio. Following the first step of a tie -up with Château d’Etroyes, in early 2019, GZV will start importing Burgundies made there under the La Reserve de Bourgogne (Chardonnay and Pinot noir) label.

Hospices de Beaune

The next step was at the most famous wine auction in the world, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction which took place in November 2018. The company bought three barrels of the 2018 vintage (each containing approximately 300 bottles), two barrels of red Beaune Premier Cru Cuvée Guigone de Salins and a barrel of white Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru. Mr Viswanathan shared his excitement about the vintage, saying, “2018 is a fantastic year and the Hospices de Beaune have one of the most renowned vineyards in the world, so we have high hopes for these wines. It is the first time an Indian company has bought anything at this prestigious auction where the proceeds go to charity. It is very difficult to produce good pinot noir and chardonnay in India due to a much hotter climate, so these wines will be a welcome addition to the GZV range. We plan to bring them to India before the festive season of 2020.”  

GZV has also added to its portfolio the wines of Four Seasons winery. This relatively new (10-15 years old) winery produces wines of a very different style than the “French” influence which can be easily tasted in GZV’s current premium wines. The newly purchased estate comes with a modernised “castle” style winery near Pune, where the company plans to develop wine tourism with 28 suites for guests and full recreational facilities. 

“The Charosa winery whose famed wines have a pronounced new world taste is also being added to complement our multibrand portfolio,” Mr Viswanathan shared. “The current Nashik winery will be revamped with touristic facilities (F&B, spa, sports activities, wine museum etc). Around 50 to 70 rooms will be available before the 2019 festive season. Just two hours away from Mumbai in a location with magnificent views from the top of a hill, visitors will be able to enjoy limited edition estate wines in a boutique winery setting with terraced vineyards for a truly unique experience.”

Grover has also acquired the chic and trendy Myra brand which will focus on the younger generation of wine-lovers. To secure grape supplies for its future growth, Grover is acquiring another 400 acres of land, beyond what is in Four Seasons and Charosa as well as tying up with more farmers to buy the grapes needed for its five wineries.

A version of this article appeared first in Sommelier India Issue 1, January to March 2019

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