India’s relationship with wine has seen many ups and downs. Its bumpy history began in the Bronze Age with the Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1300 BCE) where grapes were grown mainly for juice and for eating. Then the Ancient Persian Empire, like in China, introduced the process of wine-making. During the Muslim Moghul Empire it was forbidden, although one ruler Jahangir was known to have loved Brandy. The Portuguese colonization of Goa brought Port style wines and a continuous winemaking industry, even when there were prohibitions around the country, wine was always produced there. The British, while not contributing anything of significance to the Indian wine culture, promoted the industry heavily. Generally, the Kshatriyawere the main local consumers while the lower castes drank wine made from fermented wheat, barley and millet (aka: Beer).
Today’s modern industry has been on the rise since the 1980s/90s. However, it has been an uphill battle, rebounding from a terrible Phylloxera (grapevine lice) epidemic at the end of the 19th Century and a vision of a dry India in the Indian Constitution at India’s independence in 1947. A major game changer was the Tonia Group of Goa who along with French winemakers began importing vitis vinifera like: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Ugni Blanc. Some more modern grape varieties recently introduced are Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc and Clairette Blanche. There are also several indigenous species including: Anabeshahi, Arkavati and Arkashyam. The most widely grown grape is the Turkish Sultana which takes up at least half of the 148,000 viticulture acres in the country.
The current per capita consumption is only 9 ml (that’s about a tablespoon) and 1/8000th of what the number is in France, but things are changing. The demand is increasing with the rise of the middle class and with the changing attitudes towards Indian women. The status of Indian women is very different than 10 years ago. Many women are more independent with jobs and disposable income and wine and wine events are one of those luxurious things they spend it on. Ten years ago, it was unheard of and completely unacceptable, in Indian society, for a woman to go out drinking, now it is totally acceptable for women to go out together or with male colleagues after work and while the men have hard alcohol, most of the women sip wine.
Religion has also played a part in the low rates of Indian wine consumption. The three main religions in India are Hinduism (as well as other Dharmic faiths including Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism), Islam and Christianity. Islam has a strict prohibition while Christianity, Hinduism and the other Dharmic faiths have varying views of wine consumption. It all depends on how you view your path to dharma. There are some monastic orders which prohibit it, while other tantric sects encourage its use in moderation for special rituals or as offerings to the gods. It is also mentioned in the Ayurveda (medical writings used in eastern religions). The herbal wines, it mentions, are called asavas or arishtas and are used to reduce stress, as muscle relaxants or to help strengthen digestion. The overlying view for wine and other such substances in Hinduism is that it should be drunk with restraint and also with full knowledge of the consequences or side effects of not drinking in moderation.
The wine regions of India are:
- Andhra Pradesh
- Tamil Nadu
These regions are all characterized by higher altitudes and slightly cooler weather which are conducive to grape growing. The whole eastern half of the sub-continent is too hot and humid for viticulture activities.
The City of Nashik (or Nasik) in the Maharashtra region is considered “The Capital of Wine” in India and most of the major produces are from there, including:
All 4 wineries offer tours of their facilities and tastings at their vineyards in Nashik as well as their vineyards in other regions. Fratelli also has tourist packages for people who would like to spend an overnight or a weekend at their winery. Sula is by far the winery pioneering the wine culture and wine tourism in India. With 65% of the Indian wine market, 20 export markets and 600,000 cases produced per year, it is the largest winery in India. It has a French restaurant, a deluxe hotel, and a unique volunteer program where in exchange for working on the vineyard you learn about wine culture, wine-making and organic farming with a focus on India, of course.
For the last 9 years, it has also hosted the largest wine, food and music festival in the country. SulaFest takes place every year in February and is two days of California-inspired Indian style fun!
Some smaller producers include:
So what should you be drinking in India? Or looking for from India? This 2015 Top Ten List from India GQ’s Karina Aggarwal is a great jumping off point. Cheers Dost!