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A Hungarian toast to Indian vineyards

Peter Csizmadia-Honigh pens a comprehensive guide to wine and wineries

Wine aficionados in India could be startled by the revelation that broadly speaking, the vineyard area across the country is less than two per cent of that in Bordeaux. And that it produces 92 hectolitres of wine per hectare versus the 44 hectolitres in the French region popularly considered as the wine capital of the world.

Moreover, there are a number of premium producers with significantly lower yields.

But given the shockingly low availability of precise data on the still nascent industry in India, the lack of awareness on such piquant details ought to come as no surprise. It was also one of the reasons that impelled Peter Csizmadia-Honigh, who had been toying with the idea of penning a comprehensive guide to Indian wine and wineries, to set out on the journey.

“There were good quality wines coming out from India, but there was no information on them. So the book was right in front my eyes,” the consultant, writer and co-proprietor of Royal Somlo Vineyards in Hungary that crafts Juhfark wines for Michelin-star restaurants, exclaims.

The project got a kickstart when Peter won the 2014 award from the Geoffrey Roberts Trust and Vintners’ Company, and the idea of the book was endorsed by the trustees.

What has emerged after travelling extensively for through the country’s wine regions in Maharashtra, Karnataka and more is a 400-something page book – The Wines of India – that is more than just a guide to Indian wines.

It not only chronicles the genesis of the wine industry, starting off in the early 80s when Shyamrao Chowgule, the veritable father of the Indian wine industry set the ball rolling. Grapes were crushed for the first time at Narayangaon, 80 km north of Pune, in 1982 under the Chateau Indage banner.

The second inflection point in the narrative comes when Kanwal Grover launched the first wine made from grapes grown in Karnataka’s Nandi Hills in 1996. And then goes all the way to LVMH setting up the Chandon winery in 2013.

The 2008 global financial crisis coupled with the Mumbai terror attacks were the straws that broke the pioneering Indage-camel’s back and a huge debt piled on by the company paved the way for its liquidation in 2011.

The narrative traces the growth of the industry, and emergence of Nashik-based Sula who smartly stepped into the vacuum created by Indage (now with a capacity of 75 lakh litres per annum, the largest wine producer in the country).

Through the book’s pages one gets a glimpse of the preferred grapes, classification of Indian producers (he has given star ratings) and wine quality in the Indian context. More than just a chronicle of the industry’s progress, analyses of the challenges that plague it as well as the regulations that need to be rationalised, it is the 50-odd stories of grit, determination or even happenstance that keep one totally hooked.

From the tale of how three generations of Patel and Patidar families brought wine grapes to Madhya Pradesh and established Ambi Vineyards to become the sole producers of wine in the State, to how R Ragu set up the Cumbum Valley winery at Theni, so far the only winery in Tamil Nadu.

And of course, the promoters of major wineries of Nashik – India’s own Bordeaux – and Karnataka find their due place on Peter’s heady table. At the end of the story, what good is a wine book without recommendations? Like all good sommeliers, the writer doesn’t fail in this duty. Based on a score, he has complied six lists; four pertain to the most important varieties – Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, one to the most popular red blend – (Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz) and a sixth that covers ‘Other wines’.

Every winery story ends with ‘Peter’s Picks’, his personal favourites. So what can one say, but, a resounding Cheers?!

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