A new wine producer’s primary task is to understand the relationship between the vines, climate cycles, and the potential of the land at disposal. In India, this gets even tougher, simply because we’re off the universal grape belt of 30-50 North/South of the equator. Conventional viticultural principles don’t apply to our geography. Yet, with every passing vintage, Indian winemakers are understanding this trio better, allowing themselves an ever-growing confidence to experiment. In my recent trip to Nasik, I noticed one such continuous experiment finally bearing fruits. It’s the oak-oriented Chardonnays which India has been working on for 20 years now. They not only look most exciting and diverse, but also hold a massive promise for the future which we are yet to realise.
INDIAN CHARDONNAYS BEGIN WITH VINTAGE WINES
Unlike in other countries, growing Chardonnay wasn’t easy in India. Majority of this had to do with the psyche of the farmers. To begin with they were shy to experiment and, even though some agreed, they weren’t very happy with the results. The yields were negligible with marginal quality, and, of course, there wasn’t much demand in the first place. This burdened the winemakers to buy crops at enormous rates, making it a financial and strategic nightmare to fail at.
However, Yatin Patil, Director of Vintage Wines, recalls the economic risk, yet allowed his passion for the varietal to reign. He was undeniably the first one to take the grape to farm in 2000. Their 2005 harvest became India’s first varietal, unoaked Chardonnay. And with the arrival of new oak barrels in December that year, their 2006 crush gifted India its first barrel-fermented Chardonnay. It’s an unignorable personality with exuberant tropical fruitiness with a backbone of a strong oak accent, overall making a brilliant treat for the palate. And, let me boast, it still remains an epitome of an Indian winemaker’s courage. With Reveilo’s Reserve Chardonnay, India definitely marked the arrival of a wine-style that’ll be followed for the decades to come. Vintage Wines today solely uses Italian clones and self-grows all their Chardonnay crops.
IN COMES FRATELLI WINES
MAGIC OF HAMPI HILLS – A KRSMA OF SORTS
YORK & SULA JOINS THE PARTY
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Indian Chardonnays are definitely beyond their teething stages. The promise is immense and winemakers are backing their experiments through the growing demand for the varietal. Piero Masi suggests that it can be the grape of the future, as long as guaranteed quality is achieved within a price range. Fratelli has done well with four different expressions. But he does add that it’s still challenging to grow good Chardonnay in India. He suggests holding a strong control in the vineyards. “Fratelli initially produced 13,000 bottles of their Chardonnay Blue Label, which now has grown to 100,000 bottles!!” says Alessio
Yatin Patil confidently says that Chardonnay quantities have definitely grown the most for them. And there’s further scope. He opines the key is to keep experimenting, understanding the varietal better, and aligning with consumers’ ever-altering palates. In India, fruit forward wines with some complexity work best. The moment they get too oaky, consumers move away. Thus, it’s imperative to understand and adapt to changes, and not try to imitate an international style.