Maharashtra wine region
More than 80% of Indian wine comes from this western state, with most of the remainder hailing from neighbouring Karnataka to the south. This has as much to do with politics as geography. As far as trade is concerned, India’s states are effectively separate countries, with labyrinthine regulations and high tariffs on many kinds of cross-border goods.
This applies in spades to alcohol, whose prohibition was a goal enshrined in India’s constitution thanks to the efforts of teetotal Mahatma Gandhi. Only Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat completely bans booze, but all impose complex restrictions and punitive taxation, especially on imports from outside the state. It’s easier and cheaper for Indian wineries to export to Britain than to the state next door.
Maharashtra has the most wine-friendly (or perhaps least unfriendly) legislation, and is usefully home to the vast market of Mumbai, where much of India’s wine gets consumed. There are two main wine regions, both on the Deccan Plateau more than 100 km inland from Mumbai, and both were successfully growing table grapes decades before making any wine.
The older one is around Pune, south-east of Mumbai, where pioneering Chateau Indage stated producing a remarkably decent sparkling wine in the Eighties. Called Omar Khayyam, it was made from an unlikely blend of
, Ugni Blanc and Thompson Seedless (the latter being what was already planted for eating). In the Nineties and Noughties it seemed that most curry houses in Britain stocked it, and it was a reliably good buy. Sadly the company went on an international expansion spree just as global financial markets were about to crash, causing them to go bust in 2010.
The more northerly Nashik valley, on the border with dry Gujarat, is now the centre of wine production with 29 wineries in operation. Another pioneering sparkling wine producer, Pimpane Co-operative, produced the first wine here in 1987 in collaboration with champagne house A. Charbaut et Fils. However, they ceased production in 2003.
The current crop of Nashik wineries was spearheaded by Rajeev Samant who, having acquired a taste for wine while studying and working in California, began to plant wine varieties on his family’s land in 1996, founding
. Their first wine was released in 2000, and the state’s adoption of more wine-friendly legislation the following year encouraged other startups to follow suit.
Maharashtra’s vineyards lie at altitudes between 400 and 700 metres, giving them warm days (around 28°C) and cool nights (around 10°C), at least during the dry season from late October to April. However, this is very much the tropics, and the summer sees 40°C days and monsoon rains. Accordingly the vines are pruned hard at the beginning of summer to drive them into dormancy, and then again more carefully at its end to encourage budbreak and flowering. The grapes develop through the winter, which is so dry that irrigation is essential, and are harvested in the spring.
Decanting Club wines from: Maharashtra
Fratelli, Classic Chenin
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