Tell any foreigner that India makes wines, and you’ll get an absolutely surprised face! But then, tell an Indian that we make wine in the Hampi Hills, and that’s a bigger shock. And they find themselves further astonished on tasting the wines that KRSMA Estates, the sole vintners in the archeologically rich UNESCO World Heritage region have been crafting. Yes, not just producing, but crafting. As they complete a decade of successful winemaking, it’s been one of turning the odds in their favour, putting Indian wines on the world’s wine map and redefining what human passion, patience and persistence can yield.
If you know KRSMA, you would know the story of Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati christening KRSMA through the union of their names and their passion for running marathons. Krishna got his first taste of wine at an early age courtesy of a local bishop who had imported it from the Vatican. And it enthralled him like a cruel mistress that wouldn’t let go. Uma only learnt about the extent of his passion when after their marriage she moved into their two- bedroom apartment and found herself appointed the Cellar Master of their home winery!
But before long she too caught the bug, and they were soon enrolled in a winemaking course at the University of California, Davis. This, while Krishna was engrossed in his professional pursuit of creating one of India’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Granules India. In time, with the company running full-throttle, and the kids settled in their disciplines, the couple shifted their focus into building a full winery. While dreaming of setting up in the south of France or Tuscany, in 2009 they chanced upon a plot in the Hampi Hills, which they immediately fell for. Today, it holds the roots of KRSMA’s destiny.
KRSMA’s introduction to the world could have been with their 2010 vintage, but destiny and nature had other plans. Judging the resultant product with his pharmaceutical precision, Krishna deemed the wine unfit for drinking and subsequently scuttled its release. “We make wine that we like drinking. If we can’t drink it, we won’t release it,” he says. It’s this approach that has won them numerous awards across the globe.
Being marathon runners, who have featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, their approach is one of delayed gratification. They know it is unrelenting hard work and persistence that helps in achieving success on the final day. The launch in 2013 of their better prepared 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc took oenophiles by surprise with a fantastic vintage the following year too. The red was rich and concentrated and definitely way ahead of its time for India. The white was charming, pleasing, and described by critics as ‘spring in a bottle’, which Uma cherishes as the loveliest compliment the wine has received. Very soon, these wines were being poured in culinary meccas in New York, earning themselves boast-worthy glory. Call it Krishna’s precision, or Uma’s maternal care for her vines, either way KRSMA was igniting palates and minds across the world.
The 2013 vintage changed the rhythm at the winery when the crop just couldn’t justify KRSMA’s ‘Reserve’ title. This led to the announcement of their second label, K2, a more value-for-money proposition. Another change came with the 2014 vintage, when the couple had to redefine KRSMA’s template and the two strong personalities clashed, with ultimately the cellarmaster having her way. Krishna was driven towards achieving a Bordeaux type, restrained, and oak-oriented style for their Cabernet, while Uma was fascinated with the Napa Valley template that favoured fruit, silky tannins and approachability. His hands-off approach allowed Uma to conduct cellaring experiments which resulted in what she announces with noticeable glee as one of her most prized vintages!
While the story of KRSMA on the surface may seem to be glorious, success-filled and full of joy, it has also presented many challenges and heartbreaks. With a Master’s degree in Soil Microbiology and Plant Pathology, Uma understands that wine is the result of what the vineyards produce. Water scarcity in the Hampi Hills is a real issue. To overcome that, KRSMA built lots of dams, created borewells around the vineyards, and invested in rainwater harvesting to control the soil pH and keep the vines alive. They also learnt how to use these arid conditions to their advantage, with techniques that now demand very little intervention, and present the near absence of threats from pests and fungal infections. Since 2014, the vineyards have seen nearly five years of drought. However, thanks to KRSMA’s vineyard practices, the wines have been nothing short of inspiring and impressive and the recently released 2016 vintage is testimony. The results show unprecedented confidence and intellect.
“Viticulturally, it was a very challenging year,” Uma recalls, “demanding a lot of personal study, trial and error, such as rejigging our harvest cycles and preponing them by a few months to harvest in cooler conditions.”
Although five years old now, the 2016 is still a baby in its cradle and demands further patience from the wine producers by laying it down for another half decade. “Any experiment in the vineyard takes about four years to show results. Now we also have a better understanding of the region and our soils. Mother Nature has shown KRSMA a lot of affection. Over the last two years we’ve been very happy and able to change the texture of the soil, and generate microbes,” says Uma.
Experiments and learnings continue. KRSMA has pulled out nearly all of their Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc vines. Although their Sangiovese has been a favourite with many, including myself, their Chardonnay was the rock star. It earned them their first Double Gold at the 2013 China Wine & Spirits Awards. Yet, they were just not right for the times. While the Chenin is gone for good, new strains have been brought in to revive the other varietals, of which a few will bear fruit in 2021, marking a new beginning for them all over again! In an intimate disclosure, the Chigurupatis say they are now eyeing new horizons with blends and bubbles. “I would like to try blending our already proficient Cabernet and Syrah, and would love to revive our fallen varietals,” Uma reveals. “We’ve experimented with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the vineyards and will give them another chance. And, a KRSMA sparkling wine might also be a reality soon.”
KRSMA has turned a new page in India’s winemaking history, driven as it is more by passion than by commercial desires. Whereas a new release normally needs a big marketing push, the KRSMA brand has been built without much fanfare or effort; the grapes have spoken and shine by themselves.
Having presented many firsts: First in Hampi, first ‘Reserve only’ wines, first vintage-oriented labels, first magnums, first Indians to make it to the coveted World’s 50 Best Vineyards, there’s still a lot more that’s expected and desired from the team. Given the way the Chigurupatis have proved their mettle in their other professional pursuits and in winning marathons, one can recognise the promise of bringing more glory to Indian wine and the Hampi region.