Despite being based in the California Wine Country, renowned winemaker Kerry Damskey needs no introduction in Indian wine circles. As a minority Partner and Primary Consultant of Sula Wines, Damskey’s expertise is instrumental in propelling Sula Wines into one of India’s premium wines and a recognizable New World wine the world over.
Kerry Damskey loves his job, because he’s doing a job he loves. And there’s not just one, but several which he manages well despite his busy schedule. He is an international consultant rendering his services under his successful company, Terroir Consulting, based in California. He is also an award winning winemaker - his brand Palmeri Wines produces fabulous high-end mountain wines from the grapes of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
On the other end of the world, his strong presence behind Sula is evident with his three annual trips to India being a given. “I come during the harvest in March,” says Damskey. “The July session is probably the most important because it’s then that we evaluate all the wines that have been made. We grade them and decide on the blends.”
Besides being a winemaker, he considers himself an educator. In India, he shares his winemaking knowledge with the Sula winemaking team in what can be termed as more of a group learning experience. “A part of my role is to teach and talk about wine, its attributes, and how certain wines should be. I go around and pick randomly, and we compare notes. We do a show of hands as to where a wine will go. If it makes the cut, only then does it go out as a Sula label, otherwise it must be sold as one of the other brands.”
This year’s monsoon has not been very encouraging to farmers. The delay of this highly awaited season affects not only India’s farming community, but also winemaking. Says Damskey, “because of this delayed monsoon we’re experiencing right now, growers are pruning later. The rains are going into November, which is when it blooms. That creates a problem when we pick because it pushes out the time when grapes mature-into late March or even April, which we never had to deal with before. That’s affecting the way the grapes taste and we’re going to have to work on that. We’re learning how to deal with change of weather conditions that can adversely affect wine quality.”
Even though Sula is making great strides in the domestic and international markets, Damskey feels it’s not good enough to get India on the map of world wines. “India needs 5-10 Sulas just to keep the momentum going. Where other wineries go wrong today is not emphasizing grape quality enough. You can’t make good wine out of average grapes. Also important is understanding the chef’s role; flavours, how to make wines elegant, how to make them appropriate so that they are as good as their counterparts in the other parts of the world. A lot of the wines here just don’t taste good.”
Being a New World Wine, Sula is steadily rising tall among wines of Australia, Chile, and Argentina. When asked on how they position themselves among these already established wines, Damskey explains, “Our wines need to be appealing and have that yummy factor just like those wines. Our quality and branding need to be good as other strong brands in the world and we are quite aware of it.”
Kerry Damskey’s has a good understanding of Indian growing conditions and other such challenges. Under his expertise, Sula has produced some of the best wines of India. With their steady efforts and consistent superior quality wines, it’s just a matter of time before they become an international brand to reckon with. For India’s sake, we wish them all the best!
Rishi Vohra, CSW