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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Thursday, 25 March 2010 11:50

Passing By: Nashik Grapes Escape Wrath

The untimely and heavy rains in Nashik last November caused mildew and loss of fruit, but also a scare about the  quality of the crop which has come up to quite decent level, says Kerry Damskey, the master winemaker for Sula who was visiting from California to oversee the 2010 harvest. Subhash Arora who chatted with him at length shares his impressions.

‘Honestly speaking, I was worried that the quality may not be as good as earlier years. The Brix levels were slightly lower at the time of harvest, instead of the usual 26° the levels were around 23.5 to 24.5. Sugar levels were lower too because we lost a lot of leaves. But I am glad it has surprised us’, says Kerry who was here from California where he lives in Sonoma Valley and besides consulting a few wineries also runs his own winery. ‘I don’t know about other areas but I can say that Nashik seems to have suffered a lot in the crop yields but wines should come out quite well.’

California dreaming

‘Coming from California where it was cold and raining, it is nice and so refreshing to be here in Nashik where the temperature is touching 40° C. In fact, I think it is hotter this year. But it is so joyful to come here and see things are looking up. California is currently a nightmare with such an oversupply of wines. The unemployment is pretty bad at 10%- and things are not going to improve in the near future. People are trading down. In fact, I believe the $50 + wines are dead-at least for the next couple of years.’

But why this sudden misery and a marked change, I ask? ‘The wine business there was built up based on continuously increasing sales and profits. Now there is a backward march. The sales are down. Banks are not lending. The bar has been lowered. No body can say when things will come back to normal. The Californians are not pessimists but for once they are scared.’

‘But it is also a dream come true for wine connoisseurs. Wine price are down and one can get great wines at much lower prices,’ he adds. ‘The premium wines are down by $20-$30 or even more. People are looking for values at $10 wines and are able to find them too.’

Grapes of Wrath

So what does he think about the grape crops this year due to the Wrath of Gods in the form of the unusual incessant rain last winter in Nashik ? ‘The six inch (over 150 mm) unexpected rain was devastating. There was a loss of around 40% crops, especially since a big proportion of buds were destroyed and there was too much mildew. So the effective yields came down. I believe 3 tons/acre is the right yield for these grapes. But no matter what you do, farmers end up growing 5-6 tons an acre.. But due to the rains, this time the yields naturally came down to 2.5-3 tons.’

This could be really tragic for the farmers? ‘Unfortunately, they will be affected since the prices have already been contracted. Lower yields mean they will get less income from what they have produced.’

No grape shortage

But won’t lower crops mean shortage of grapes, especially with consumption expected to go up this year? ‘Sula had planned on a growth of 45% last year. So they had prepared themselves with extra stocks. Due to the recession, there had been enough left over which can be used for the current year sales. I don’t see any grape shortage for this year.’

What are you guys doing to upgrade the wines and raise the bar a notch or two?  ‘Well, we have been quite successful with our wine quality so far. But Sula cannot sit on its laurels and must continue to evolve.’

Riesling Australian Style

Sula Viognier seems to have come up very well but Riesling seems to lack the crispness. How is that? ‘Due to the hot Nashik climate, Rieslings would always be warm weather wines. We are going more in the direction of the hot Barossa Valley Australian style wine which even Jancis Robinson so loves. We are looking for light and limy character.

World Class ‘Rasa’ Shiraz 2008

With the smaller, newer, producers creating a niche market with wines age-worthy wines coming up gradually, doesn’t Sula feel threatened? ‘The challenge is to make wines that age well for 5, 8 and then 10 years. Dindori is a fairly decent age-worthy wine and we have some good quality grapes growing of our own. We produced a 100% Shiraz special grape-collection wine , labelled as Rasa in 2008. We made only 3-400 cases for the maiden vintage. This will be the first world class wine crossing the $20 price tag. It has a slight old world nature to it. I believe it will definitely age for 5 years. We will try for wines ageing for 8 year from there. I would like you to taste it and give me your impression. This wine may even be sold only through the wine club Sula is planning to start’

Mirror, mirror on the wall- Is Nashik best of’em all

But what do you think of the weather here in Nashik-isn’t it not too hot? ‘Actually Napa does get pretty hot too. It crosses 100° F (close to 40° C) during the day but nights are cool-it goes down to 50°F. This is great for the acidity of the grapes. Unfortunately, the night temperature still does not go down as much as one would like to see in Nashik.’

Do you think there could be better regions in India from that perspective? Don’t you think Sula should expand into other regions as well?  ‘Well India is a huge country and I do believe somewhere in North India where monsoon cycle can be favourable and one can plant at higher up areas, there should be a good chance of making good quality wines. But Sula is so busy trying to meet the demand right now that it may not make practical step to go that way. I am sure one day Rajeev will look at this possibility too.’

Competition please

With Indage in trouble Sula is on a good wicket with sales spurting? ‘In the long term competition is very important for the quality to get better. There should be ideally 10 players offering each other competition. I am sure, Rajeev welcomes competition too.’

So Sula 2009 is on the right track? ‘Well, I will be beck for my second visit-I visit twice a year, in July. We will know by then how the wines are coming along. I will keep you updated.’

Subhash Arora


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