June 17: After initiatives like Top Ten Importers, Top Ten Producers, Top Ten Indian Women of Wine (WOW) and delWine Excellence Awards, Indian Wine Academy is proud to take the lead in recognising India’s young winemakers, the backbone of quality winemaking, and introduces the biennial ‘Top Ten Winemakers of India under 40’,, with this Article featuring the last 3 winemakers in no particular order, writes Subhash Arora who feels the 3-Part series was necessary to do justice to Rupali Bhatnagar, Yogesh Londhe and Abhijeet Shendage
Rupali Bhatnagar (Sula Vineyards)
Rupali Bhatnagar Raghorte is the Associate Vice President and Senior winemaker - sparkling and white wines at Sula Vineyards. A microbiologist by qualification with no formal degree in winemaking or internships abroad, Rupali's journey has been phenomenal. She has proven that one can rise to the ranks of a good winemaker even without a formal training in enology- only through sheer hard work, grit and setting goals. She joined Sula Vineyards in 2006 as a lab technician and progressed within the organisation by changing roles over the years.
She has held diverse roles in winemaking under the guidance of Ajoy Shaw. In her tenure of over 15 grape harvests at Sula, her role involved managing every aspect of winemaking, bottling, grape selection, winemaking strategy, etc. She is also responsible for winemaking at different off-sites.
When Rupali became the winemaker at Sula, she was responsible only for the sparkling wine programme but eventually, she got the entire white winemaking programme under her. She has handled different varietals, be it red or white, and designed various wines like Brut, Brut Tropicale, Chardonnay, Sparkling shiraz. Rupali has also been actively involved in the winemaking for Viognier and Riesling. She also led the switch from the Traditional to Charmat method for Il Tropicale sparkling wines.
She does not believe in making parametrically correct wines but always aims at making delicious, palatable wines with the perfect balance of flavours. She believes that winemaking is a skill, and it takes a lot of practice to convert an average fruit into a great wine.
An experimental and inquisitive winemaker, she loves trying out new techniques, winemaking styles, varietals, and even yeasts, etc. Rupali has travelled the world and explored many wine styles and regions. She enjoys learning tips and tricks from Master winemaker - Kerry Damskey and has created her style over the years.
Coincidentally, Rupali also won the Recognition as one of the ‘Top Ten Women of Wine in India (WOW)’ in its 4th edition held concurrently with the delWine Excellence Awards in 2019.
Also Read : Wine Feature: Top Ten Winemakers of India under 40 (Part-2)
Abhijeet Shendage (Grover Vineyards)
Abhijit Shendage has been working as the Winemaker with Grover Zampa Vineyards since 2013. After graduating from Pune University in 2006, he kick-started his journey in the wine industry with Chateau Indage as a trainee, where he trained in all the departments of winery including winemaking and Quality Control. This was followed by a stint at Vallonne from where he moved to Sula.
It was a major breakthrough for him when he was hired by Grover (Karishma Grover, daughter of Kapil Grover, used to be the young winemaker there then) in 2013.
Grover was on the threshold of premiumisation that started just after he joined the company. Starting with the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection
that was launched in 2014 and followed by a plethora of new labels including Insignia in 2016, he has been involved in producing all the new premium labels.
Abhijeet feels he really blossomed at Grover. It offered him a plethora of options to try and experiment on making wine and further enhance the status of their premium wines in the industry.
He has been involved in crafting the super-premium wines like Insignia, Chene Chardonnay, La Reserve Fume blanc, Shiraz Grenache, AC Late harvest and Riesling- some of these upmarket wines have been making their way into the market only recently.
Having a rich experience of 15 years in winemaking in India and abroad, he was given the responsibility to lead the winemaking team from 2018 to 2020 for Nashik and Bangalore. 'We are the pioneers in Indian wine industry and have introduced different ageing vats other than barrels. We believe in and have introduced clay amphora and concrete tanks as the paramount vessels for ageing. Grover Zampa is soon going to launch the super-premium wines fermented and aged in concrete tanks,’ he says proudly.
He has been fortunate enough to be involved with the cutting-edge technology in the wine industry that includes optical sorting machine, amphorae and concrete tanks. He believes this has shaped him to be a better craftsman. He is also working towards promoting organic and sustainable winemaking in India.
Yogesh Popatrao Londhe (Good Drop Cellars)
The 33-year old son of the soil has been a winemaker since 2014 at the Good Drop Wine Cellars Pvt. Ltd in Nashik. He did his M.Sc. in Winemaking, brewing and distillation from the University of Pune in 2012 after graduation in winemaking from GARTI, Nashik. During this period, he also worked as Assistant Winemaker at Oakwood Winery.
The selection for training in Germany where he played the role of a Cellar Master for a government owned Experimental Cellar, gave him a kick start. He worked 4 harvests as a Cellar Master in Baden-Württemberg, and also interned in Mosel and Rhine regions in Germany during this period, looking after different aspects of winemaking. He also did a couple of harvests under the guidance of Mathias Pellissard, the French winemaker who has been working with Grover for many years as a consultant
The Assistant Winemaker at Good Drop is a skilled worker with proven ability to perform a variety of tasks, including winemaking, analysis, maintenance, customer service, repair and special projects. His ability to multitask and work independently in a fast-paced, high volume environment and flexibility in work in various shifts, is his strong asset.
He has been involved in the winemaking of the complete range of wines including the still wines with international grapes, flavoured and fruity wines, sparkling wines with both the Traditional and Charmat Method and also making the Sussreserve. (Sweet wine made in a special way to add to the still wine to make it taste sweeter)
His contribution has been significant in his employer Good Drop winning around 40 medals- most of which have been won in the domestic competitions. He is an all-rounder of winemaking with diversified experience in the making of budget friendly wines to premium wines, from carbonated wines to Sparkling wines with Traditional Method.
Also Read : Wine Feature: Top Ten Winemakers of India under 40 (Part 1)
THE TOP TEN WINEMAKERS OF INDIA UNDER 40 - CONCLUSION
This concludes the last Part of our series of Top Ten Indian Winemakers under 40. To sum up, the following is the complete list-in alphabetical order. This time we have not ranked them but will do so in our next edition of the Awards. Congratulations to the winners. We hope you will rise and shine further during the next couple of decades and even more, to help take the Indian wine industry to newer heights with better quality and innovative wines-keeping a watch over sustainable wines, climate control and global warming, natural wines, organic and biodynamic wines and keep a lid on the alcohol levels.
DelWine raises a toast to you to say JAI HO (Cheers) to:
Click to read Part-1 Part-2