Harvesting wine grapes in India


P1100663.jpgDid you know that wine grapes produced in India are different from any other wine grapes in the world? Not better or worse, just different. That’s because unlike elsewhere in the northern hemisphere our grapes are harvested in February-April (ie pre-summer) rather than in September-October (ie, pre-winter), writes SI correspondent, Alok Chandra, from Bangalore.

Effectively, we’ve adapted viticulture to suit our terroir. We prune the bushes twice, once in September after the monsoon, so that the grapes ripen during our balmy winter months, and again post-harvest, so that the vines survive our hot summers.
Many people think that since our weather is not as extreme as it can be in Europe, we get the same growing conditions every year. Not true. Like any other agricultural or plantation crop, grapes too are subject to the vicissitudes of rain and bugs and mildew, and the quality of each year’s harvest or “vintage” varies.
“For me, 2012 will be remembered as the best white wine vintage of the past 5-6 years”, says Rajeev Samant, MD and head of Sula. “Overall, this harvest was excellent – much better than the very difficult harvests of 2010 and 2011. There was no unseasonal rain in November unlike the previous two years, so there was no downy mildew and resulting crop loss.”
Sula, of course, has both its own vineyards and also sources grapes and wine from a number of growers in the Nashik area. Samant reports that because of favourable weather this year, yields as well as quality, were significantly better than the previous two years, particularly for white wines resulting in “… beautiful flavours and great acidity”.
However, he adds that “the winter was very cool — the coldest in the last five years (down to 5°C), so initial ripening was slow, and the harvest was delayed by about two weeks. This led to a problem for some red grapes (although the reds overall are still very good),”
As everyone is probably aware, Sula is the market leader in India, and should have finished 2011-12 with sales of over 400,000 cases of wine — its portfolio extends across the entire gamut of wine types and price-points, from Rs 125 to Rs 1,200 per bottle.
The harvest report from Fratelli Vineyards (located 150 km south of Pune) is similar: Alessio Secci says that “we had a very dry monsoon, making it possible to prune two weeks early, but low temperatures up to January, with a minimum 13°C, allowed slow ripening and a late harvest. However, temperatures rose dramatically in early February to 38°C, making it important to do daily checks for harvesting.”
Fratelli grows not only Sauvignon Blanc but also white wine grapes like Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau, and Chardonnay, and in 2012 is looking to also produce both a Sparkling and a Late Harvest wine for the first time. One looks forward with interest to its 2012 vintage hitting the shelves, particularly as previous vintages displayed terrific improvements each year.
The harvest conditions in North Karnataka would be different as is the climate and soil. The terroir of the grape-growing areas near Bangalore is quite different due to its higher altitude, a more moderate climate (it never goes below 10°C), and a different soil composition with more schist or gravel.
However, the harvest report this year seems to be quite similar: D N Raju of Bangalore’s Soma Vineyards reports a good vintage in 2012 — no unseasonal rains and a cool extended winter that favoured the development of complexity and flavours in the grapes allowed him to complete his harvest by end-March. These conditions would be similar for Grover Vineyards, which sources its grapes from the ‘Nandi Valley’ area, the region close to Nandi Hills.
So expect some good wines this year — I’ll share the tasting notes of the wines when I get them.

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