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WINE SHINE

Karnataka's new wineries

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Winemaking sounds like such a romantic idea. Who hasn't dreamt of owning a few sun-dappled hectares and picking a few grapes? Plus you get to drink the results of your toil. But reality isn't half as romantic. Making wine is the comparatively easy part;finding someone to drink it is much, much tougher. But that isn't stopping Karnataka's new vintners - who include a marathon runner and a former minister - from uncorking their ambitions. A state known for its software professionals has seen many as 16 new wineries in the last three years.

The stage was set for this boom by the Karnataka Grape Processing & Wine Policy 2007 (notified October 2008) which liberalised licensing for new wineries and made selling the stuff easier and cheaper. The policy also permitted issuing new licenses for "wine taverns" (restaurants ) and "wine boutiques" (retail). Today, apart from the new wineries, there are 189 wine taverns and 14 wine boutiques in the state, of which 160 and 8 respectively (and still counting) are in Bangalore city alone.

So what are these new wineries? Are their wines any good? And what is their future? The biggest (in terms of investment) has to be Alpine Wineries, located about 130 km from Bangalore off the road to Mysore, whose Vindiva ranges of reds are just being rolled out locally. The owner, 33-year-old Raghavendra Gowda, has reportedly invested Rs 125 crore so far in vineyard infrastructure on his 1, 250 acres of land (240 acres of which have already been planted) and the state-of-the-art winery (capacity: 400 KL/year, expandable to 1 million KL with a marginal additional investment). He has also has roped in renowned winemaking consultant Stephane Derenoncourt for help in both vineyard management and winemaking. This a winery to watch - the Vindiva Reserve Shiraz 2010 (Rs. 875) is simply terrific, with soft tannins and a complex structure, while the Vindiva Shiraz Classic (Rs. 685) is very nice (good aromas of fruit and spice and a medium-dry palate), and even the Oro Cabernet Shiraz (Rs. 415) is a nice, clean, drinkable wine. www. alpinewineries. com Elite Vintage Vineyards has been set up by Vinod Guraddi in Mudhol town, which is 85 km southwestof Bijapur. He has invested Rs 15 crore on his 180 acres of wine grapes and the 1 million litre/year winery. The unit produces both its own labels (Dabur, Elite, Gagan, Silver Dew, and Ulhas) as well as almost the entire range of wines for Sula, who cleverly contracted production in the state in early 2009 as the 2008 wine policy had imposed a tariff barrier of Rs 300/litre on wines from

outside Karnataka. www. elitevintagewinery. com The Hampi Heritage Winery at Bijapur has been around for some years. It was set up by former excise minister and MP Ramesh Jigajingi just outside Bijapur town (the political contacts are evident in the photographs of erstwhile chief minister Yeddyurappa cutting ribbons at the unit's inauguration). The winery is basic and it produces the Kinvah brand of wines on contract for marketing company Nandi Valley Wines. This is not to be confused with Heritage Grape Winery, located near Channapatna town on the Mysore highway, about 50 km from Bangalore, started by PVL Reddy in 2008. Heritage winery started with making port-style wine (from 'Bangalore Blue' table grapes), and has recently added wine made from wine grapes ( 'varietals' ) to its portfolio. The project has been aided by winemaking consultant Mohan Rao (formerly with Shaw Wallace) and wine maker Benjamin Bittner. www. heritagewinery. com Another new winery is Krishnamurga winery, about 110 km north of Bangalore, near Gauribiddanur town. It produces wines both under its own Black Buck label as well as on contract for Ramesh Rao of Mandala Wines under the low-cost Jouvin brand. The owner, Krishna Reddy, is one of the largest wine grape producers in the state, and had been supplying to Grover Vineyards for years till the wine bug bit him. They have a nice Cabernet Shiraz and a Viognier (both Rs 482 in Bangalore) well worth trying. A very interesting setup is the Krsma Estates winery, near Hospet reservoir in north Karnataka, set up by industrialist and marathon runner Krishna Prasad. He's got two harvests under his belt, and will release his wines only in end 2012. Other new wineries in the state include Adarsha Winery, Dada Winery (near Belgaum, producing Surya Divine wines on contract), Nisarga Winery (Bijapur), Rico Winery (also at Bijapur), Indian Ambience Winery (near Bidar) and Krishna Valley Vineyards (Bijapur, started by Manjunath Kanyadi, produces wines under the Seasons label). A few more like La Terra (near Gauribiddanur ), Magpie Wines, and Suloko (Kolar district) have either closed or never took off. Of course, the list is not complete without mentioning the producers of port-style wines Golconda and Goanna's (USL's Pampasar Distillery and John Distillers of Officer's Choice whiskey fame respectively). Last, but not least, is the SDU Winery, 70 km north of Bangalore on the road to Gauribiddanur. Owned by entrepreneur Umesh Hingorani, with winemaking consultant Andrea Valentinuzzi (of Reveilo fame), it did its first crush this year. A boutique winery which will make a small quantity of good wine, this is one wine I'm waiting to sample. More wineries will be set up in the years to come. One only hopes that the market grows fast enough to accommodate them all.

The writer is a Bangalore-based wine consultant

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