Part I: Whining a Bit About Wine in India

India 1

By Lauren Eastman “Don’t drink the water” was the most utilized warning I heard before leaving for India for three weeks last December.  The exact moment when the words first hit my ear, I was standing in the camping aisle at REI, studying a $125 microbial removing water bottle with its own LED light attachment.  Who would chance getting sick by drinking water?  I picked up some chlorine tablets for safe measure and pushed my shopping cart filled with backpacks, daypacks, head wraps, quick dry towels and sani wipes to the checkout counter as I began my journey.

Spending Time with the Children
Spending Time with the Children

The question of wine didn’t arise until after I arrived in the place that smelled of earth and cumin and sounded like prayer.  After the first harrowing highway drive swaying amid lanes that merely acted as abstract reference points to wandering drivers, I certainly considered a hearty glass of Cabernet, but opted for a calming Chai and meditation instead. That being said, India is far better known for its spirituality than its spirits. In fact, such a concept would be as unsacred as dyeing one’s hair blond, eating a hamburger or wearing high heels – thus potentially an unchartered path for a wine loving, downward dogging gal from San Francisco used to vanilla lattes by morning and Pinot Noirs by night.

But India’s history of making wine is nearly as far evolved as its roots in prayer.  During the Vedic period, the Aryan tribe was reputed to indulge in Sura - a rice wine fermented with honey.  Under the Muslim Mughal Empire, alcohol was banned until Portuguese colonists in Goa re-introduced it to the continent. When India became independent from Britain, the government’s work to prohibit alcohol in the country left many states dry, and vineyards converted to table grape and raisin production.  It was not until the 1980’s that the Indian wine industry saw its revival amid international influences and increased demand from the middle class and a Westernized population.

India 2
India 2

Today, as the country beckons a more Westernized populace, the call for wine is growing louder. Viticulturally speaking, India’s vineyards are now planted with well known to the US varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc – all welcome refreshments from the heat of the weather and the spicy food. Of these producers, Sula Wines is one of India’s most prominent winemakers and producers, and can be found on by-the-glass wine lists in the country’s top hotels and restaurants. Founder Rajeev Samant was lauded by the Wine Spectator in 2002, making his the first Indian wine brand to reach such international acclaim, and was one of the first steps to the company’s later emergence as India’s largest wine producer.  In addition, the company is known for sustainable winemaking, providing job opportunities for thousands of India’s youth, which is something that this yogi can certainly appreciate. Along the lines of global shrinking, Charles Communications Associates’ own Drew Damskey had a stint of work at Sula before joining CCA last summer while he pursues his MBA degree at Sonoma State, and a few years back, CCA opined on Indian wines at the time when Chow.com came to our offices to talk about a mystery box that arrived from friends in Mumbai.  Click here to take a peek.