One of my top priorities for the weekend was to visit Grover Vineyards for a wine tour and tasting.
India is not a huge producer of wine but has quite a few regions that produce wine:
According to this article from Wine Business International, wine consumption has been growing by 20-25% per year. Though India doesn’t have the ideal climate for growing grapes for wine, they do have an ancient wine-making traditions. “After the Portuguese conquered Goa in 1510, they planted vines. The British followed later and greatly contributed towards the growth of Indian wine consumption, though winemaking went off the radar with the onslaught of phylloxera in the late nineteenth century. After India became independent in 1947, there was a wave of prohibition that did not allow for new vines.” By the 1980s, a revival began as wine producers replanted and began selling wine again.
“Maharashtra and Karnataka have emerged as the premium wine producing states. Being in the tropical region, two crops in a year are possible but, due to the temperature-monsoon cycle, only one harvest is practical,with February-April being the harvest season. Due to this non- dormancy of vines, it may not be possible to grow the best crops in India, but with advances in technology, decent wines of increasingly better quality are possible. Indigenous grapes are also used for cheaper wine, or mixed with wine grapes to lower costs, resulting in lower quality.”
While there are no regulations on the quality of wine produced in India. Many vineyards boast that their wines are consistent, even if they are not the best quality compared to standards from around the world. However, in 2009 the Indian Grape Wine Board (IGPB) was formed with one of its objectives, being to introduce laws that will help improve quality in addition to promoting Indian wines.
In doing internet research I found Grover Vineyards in the northern part of Bangalore called the Nandi Hill. Upon enquiry, I discovered that they offer wine tours and tasting. Having just turned 21 in December, I have not been to a vineyard or had an official wine tasting. Why not start with India? I came in with low expectations, having tasted some pretty terrible Indian wines but we had a pretty swell experience!
According to Kanwal Grover, “The best wines come from the best soil.” Therefore, Grover’s philosophy is based on the fact that good wine is an expression of the grapes and the terrain. The entire estate spreads across 400 acres of rich, red limestone soil where they plant 4 varieties of grapes to make their wines. Harvest season falls early here in India; February-April (versus September-October in other regions). The grapes are all still harvested and sorted by hand- this is mostly due to the small scale of production. This is true for vineyards across India.
We were able to see the wine production areas where the grapes are crushed, pressed, and fermented in huge tanks, aged, and bottled. This process varies depending on the type of wine being produced. (The entire process is explained on their website).
Grover produced 7 varieties of wine, 5 of which we were able to sample amidst oak barrels in their air-conditioned cellar.
Their main collection is called The Art Collection: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Shiraz Rose, and Cabernet Shiraz (the collection also includes a pure Shiraz and Chenin Blanc). We tasted them in order of aging- less to most aged. Here were my thoughts:
- The Viognier is a very light bodied white wine (light bodied, meaning, there is very little after taste lingering on your tongue). They described it as being a dry wine, but compared to a Chardonnay, I did not find it to be very dry. It is very aromatic and fruity therefore it is best served as a aperitif or summer wine rather than pairing it with food.
- Sauvignon Blanc is a medium bodied white wine which I much preferred to the Viognier. There was less fruitiness and more acidity. Recommended pairings are vegetable curries or possibly light meats.
- From the moment I saw the Shiraz Rose, I knew it was not my cup of tea. 🙂 Its light pink color looks pretty but it was too sweet for my palate. Rather, I felt like I was drinking perfume!
- Finally into the red wines! The Cabernet Shiraz within The Art Collection is a blend of 40% Cabernet and 60% Shiraz grapes. It is a medium bodied red that is edgy with a slight sweetness. Therefore it pairs well with spicy foods and any meat dish.
- The last wine we tried was by far the best called La Reserve. This is also a Cabernet Shiraz with a 80% Cabernet and 20% Shiraz blend. The full body was very smooth and sultry. This wine is aged the longest in oak barrels (6 months, then 1 year in the bottle). It is also the only wine that Grover bottles with a cork. This is again, due to the aging process. The little amount of air trapped in the cork allows the wine to age. The screw tops, on the other hand, stop the aging process so that the wine going into the bottle is identical to the wine you pour out. But as our tour guide put it, La Reserve changes when exposed to oxygen, creating “a rhythm in your mouth.”
Our day ended with a lunch prepared by the vineyard chefs which we ate picnic style outside! It was a very simply spread: Vegetable Broth Soup, Vegetable or Chicken Biryani, Raita, Papad (crispy bread), and Gulab Jamun for dessert. Dessert was definitely the highlight of the meal- served in warm sugar syrup with strong hint of cardamom.
Overall, it was a pretty neat experience. However, the oddest aspect of the day was the range of people. There were your typical couples and then there were three or four families that brought their children along! We are talking as young as 8 years old. Of course they could not drink the wine and did not take much interest in the wine making process so they tagged along for the entire tour. During our wine tasting, our “soothing lovely music” was replaced by the kids devouring the cheese and crackers on the tables. I felt terrible for our host who was trying to describe the wines.
Melissa and I were honored that Rajesh and Rajat joined us for the tour as well. With the vineyards being north of the city, we were struggling to find a good way to reach the vineyards on our own. We had planned on taking the train and then picking up an auto but then realized the train connections were not direct- it got more complicated than I initially researched. Therefore, I was thrilled when Rajat expressed interest in coming with us the night before and offered to drive us. All 4 of us experience our first wine tasting together! What a day!
Can’t wait to hit Napa Valley next 🙂