Yaatra, a 100% only Syrah, was born of a partnership between York Winery and Liam Steevenson MW. Brinda Gill brings us the back-story on how this Shubh Yatra came to be.
“For us, this project fulfils many objectives,” says Kailash Gurnani, winemaker, York Winery, Nashik, of the production of Yaatra 2016. This export-only Syrah is born of a partnership between York Winery and Liam Steevenson MW, founder and managing director, Global Wine Solutions Ltd, London, a company that specializes in managing wineries’ production and distribution needs globally. As one of the youngest winemakers in the country, who took over the reins of winemaking at the family-owned winery in 2011 when he was just 23, Kailash has steadily expanded York’s wine portfolio and helped to scope new opportunities to expand York’s presence.
While York wines have increased their presence in markets across India, been exported to several countries and received accolades and appreciation from wine lovers, the team has always been keen to export to the UK, “a tough market to crack”. So when Liam visited Nashik in March 2017 along with Jancis Robinson, Fiona Beckett and Elyse Lambert (as part of their trip to India for the Taj International Vine and Food Experience being held at Taj Falaknuma, Hyderabad), he was sufficiently impressed with the offering at York to suggest that they collaborate to produce a wine for the UK market. “It was a no-brainer decision to say yes right away!” says Kailash.
“Liam has been conducting training and tasting sessions at IHM Kolkata and has been a regular visitor to India over the past five years. When he visited our winery and tasted our wines, he was particularly impressed by Arros, our barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend, and the Syrah that was being aged in oak barrels. He saw a lot of potential in the Syrah. It is the most widely planted red grape variety in Nashik. It does really well here as Nashik’s warm days and cold nights during winter are ideal for ripening fruit and bringing out their flavours. Some of our Shiraz vineyards have a really good expression of this variety,” says Kailash.
It was about five years ago that Liam decided to concentrate on the areas he was truly passionate about. “Wine for me has always been about people and places, so we decided to start four winemaking projects in different parts of the world. The first one was in the Roussillon in France, the second in Spain – two areas I know well and can spend a lot of time in. A much larger project presented itself in New Zealand and that has been incredibly exciting. However the idea to work in India came from meeting and spending time with Ravi (Ravi Gurnani, director, York Winery) and Kailash. In them, I knew I had found the perfect partners, people with incredible ambition to make outstanding wines and with total dedication and passion in very challenging conditions. Working with them has been fantastic, exciting and challenging, and is showing some quite brilliant results.”
Liam liked what he saw at York when Kailash showed him around the winery, which is designed at several levels so that the various production areas (for receiving harvested grapes, crushing, winemaking, barrel cellar, bottling and storage) are located separately in a streamlined fashion. Kailash says, “We got along well. Liam was very honest about his thoughts on our wines. He felt our Syrah had potential and suggested we produce a 100% Syrah oak-aged for export. That was great for us. We knew that he was working on projects with wineries across the world to produce small batches of wines that he imports into the UK and we were very happy with this offer.”
He goes on to say, “Through Liam our wines will reach many people across the world as he has a great network. And for me, personally, it was so reassuring to know that my palate is in line with Liam’s who is a MW and has tasted fine wines from across the world at hundreds of wineries!”
With the project finalised, Liam and his team at Global Wine Solutions started working on the wine’s name and label, and Kailash and the York team commenced working on the wine. Just as quality grapes were selected for the premium wine, Arros, so were quality Syrah grapes selected – from their own Syrah vineyards – for the new label. “We wanted to create a wine that is distinct from Arros, which is a big, bold robust wine with American oak flavours in the mid-palate. Inspired by the classic style of Syrah produced in Northern Rhône, where Syrah is a dominant indigenous grape, we decided on an elegant, refined style of Syrah, one that has great aging potential – ideal for a mature wine market like the UK.”
Vines at a single vineyard were monitored during the harvest season of 2016, and when their fruit was ready they were harvested early morning, de-stemmed and fermented (in stainless steel tanks) as whole berries. The grape must underwent cold maceration for two days, fermentation for about ten days and post-fermentation maceration for eleven days, making for a total 23 days of skin contact – a period long enough to introduce extra flavour and tannins into the wine. After malolactic fermentation the wine went directly into medium-toasted French oak barrels where it was aged for 13 months. Just three barrels of wine were produced, one new and two third-fill barrels, that were blended so as to get oak flavours that would be discernible yet not overpower the fruit flavours.
The wine was named Yaatra (Hindi for ‘journey’) expressing, as Kailash says, “that the process of creating wine in this country of unmatched beauty is a step into the unknown, a voyage of discovery, struggle and joy”, that Nashik has been a pilgrimage destination for millennia and that India herself transports one’s mind, body and soul on the ultimate yatra. Liam’s team worked on the label: the main label features in charcoal-drawing style an impression of a standing human figure, while the text on the back label elaborates on the word Yaatra, as well as on Nashik and India, with a mention of the age-old practice of cooking on chulhas or traditional charcoal stoves.
Of the 2016 vintage only three barrels, that is about 800 bottles, have been produced, and these have been exported and will be sold in the UK through Global Wine Solutions. The ease of interacting with Liam through the conceptualisation, production and dispatch of the wines has been a dream come true for York. And Liam is also pleased with his first partnership with an Indian winery. He says, “The winery is excellent and so is the desire to push quality as far as we can, and establish York as the finest wine producer in India – and hopefully Yaatra as the finest wine produced in India. There are not that many wines from India in the UK market yet. However, I have noticed the conversation is growing. I am confident that as increasingly good wine gets exported, the reputation if India as a wine producing country will grow and grow.”
Adding yet another positive aspect to the project, a percentage of the price of every bottle sold will be given to The Jungle Crows Foundation, a social development organisation that supports children and young people in some of the less developed communities in India. Kailash hopes that the second vintage will see a larger production, of which a small quantity will be kept for tasting at the winery and for sale at select outlets in a few cities thus giving wine lovers in India a chance to taste his latest offering.