What does a master wine maker do?
It takes great grapes to make great wine. It’s my job to articulate a definable style for a wine but I wont create an identity. That comes from the grapes! My job is like that of a gem cutter. Unless I get high quality grapes, I cannot work wonders.
You live in the US. How do you manage to make wines in India?
I come down to Nashik three times a year. As we speak, we are nearing the completion of the 2013 vintage. We are currently fermenting some varietals while also bottling some of the early white wines. I am tasting the grapes and the wines at different stages of fermentation every day.
How do you make sure the grapes are protected enough to produce good wine?
In Nashik we prune the grapes twice a year instead of the usual practice of pruning grapes just once a year in many nations. This happens in March and in September. The quality of any wine is dependant on the weather. So we pray that there is no rainfall after the second pruning in September. Luckily the rains stayed away post-September last year and so, we have had a fabulous harvest
You bottle different varietals at different times of the year. Why is this so?
Just like any other fruit, different varieties mature at slightly different times. We usually pick the white wine grapes first. So we start by picking Sauvignon Blanc grapes in January. Riesling and Zinfandel varietals follow this in February. And finally, in March, we pick the grapes for Shiraz and Tempranillo. It takes a month or more for the grapes to dry and then ferment.
So at this moment we are bottling the first of the Sauvignon Blanc. Next up, are the Rieslings.
Riesling in India? Isn’t that a German wine?
Yes of course we grow Riesling. You are correct that German and French Rieslings are the most famous. But now others also grow this variety. Australia does it for instance. But our Riesling is better the Australian ones for sure.
Wow! And what is the Tempranillo?
This is a Spanish red grape we are growing for the first time in India. This is surely one of our strong suites this year. It is an early red grape, dark purple in colour, has spice and berry tones on the nose. It has long legs, tastes bright acidic without leaving a heavy tannin aftertaste. We are yet to decide what we will name the bottle. But trust me this will be a red wine Indians will fall in
Sounds like 2013 is going to be a good year for wine connoisseurs.
Yes, overall I would say the 2103 vintage in Nashik is probably the best in the last five years.
Kerry Damskey is a viticulturist with a degree from the University of California t Davis. He worked for wineries at San Diego before becoming a winemaker for Zellerbach Winery in the USA in 1986. He has been the chief winemaker at Sula since inception.