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Delhi Wine Club
Viognier may become Classic Varietal of Nashik

Posted: Monday, 12 August 2013 11:19

Viognier may become Classic Varietal of Nashik

Aug 12: With a quantum jump in the quality of Nine Hills Viognier during the last three vintages, Andrew Miller, a winemaker from the parent company of Nine Hills, Pernod Ricard feels that Viognier may become the future classic white wine varietal from the Nashik belt, writes Subhash Arora who chatted with the visiting winemaker from Australia about the status of Nine Hills wines and the future potential

Click For Large ViewSeagram’s Nine Hills appears to be on a quality improvement spree on a fast track of late. Andrew was on his third visit to India within a short span of 10 months when he had come for the first time. He arrived on his current visit last Sunday and left for his home town Adelaide in Australia on Thursday, the day delWine was able to track him soon after he reached Mumbai from the winery in Nashik where he had tasted the 2013 vintage and decided on the blends.

Unlike many other Indian rookie wine producers who claim their wines to be the best quality and comparable with the best of international wines after their maiden vintage, Andrew was modest to admit that the quality of Nine Hills had been steadily improving during the last three vintages of 2010-12 but was perhaps still not at its best. ‘Though I cannot make the claim for the improvements as my predecessors were working with the wines,’ he says modestly but ,’if we go by the 2013 vintage that I tasted during the last couple of days, I can say they are looking great and we are going towards the clean and fruitier style.’

Terroir is definitely very important for the wine characteristics, he says. 'It is my job to make a wine that reflects the place of origin. For instance a Nine Hills Shiraz would always taste different than a Jacobs Creek Shiraz from Australia. But people erroneously use it to explain the faults or problems in their wine,’ he says when I tell him that the red wine flavours from Nashik have a certain green tinge that some producers attribute to the terroir. ‘Green flavours are due to the incomplete phenolic ripeness and it is not simple to remove it. It is not fair to blame it on the terroir. We are also working on this and have improved a lot during the last few vintages,’ he says.

Is he a winemaker or a viticulturist, I ask Andrew? ‘I am a winemaker but I firmly believe that wine quality begins in the vineyard. Once grapes are harvested, my job is to protect that quality and enhance the style of wine through various winemaking techniques. To that extent we have been experimenting in India, including various types of oak,’ he says. And what about the yeasts, I ask? ‘Yeast has some role to play in the flavours but not as much as the manufacturers would have you believe,’ he asserts.

I ask Andrew directly about the current level of quality of Nine Hills and how much better the winery expects it to be-even though improvements are a continuous process. ‘After tasting the wines from different tanks yesterday and today, I am quite satisfied that the wines very much reflect the region. I must say that between the 2011 and 2012 vintages we have made tremendous progress in quality. I think we are closer to achieving the standards to our satisfaction in white wines. We still have work to do in our red wines where we continue to experiment. But we are looking at long term results and are confident that during the next 3-4 years we would reach that optimum level.’

Click For Large ViewPerhaps, this is the reason why the winery has not gone out aggressively in the export market yet. Adrian Pinto, the national marketing head for wines, who has also joined in the conversation says, ‘there are already a few of the group companies overseas who have shown interest in importing our wines. But we want to make sure we have reached the standards from where we can take off and present our products proudly to the world market. We are focusing on quality and also trying to meet our increasing domestic demand before looking outwards. For instance, we have been out of Shiraz for two months and waiting for the current vintage to come out.’

Quite an interesting statement, coming from a company that has been growing steadily every year but does not like to share its figures of production or the percentage growth but nevertheless has reached the no. 4 spot as a winemaker with around 40,000 cases sold last year-with only Sula, Four Seasons and Grover ahead of it. It reminds me of the first vintage which was not of an enviable quality but the British journalist, author and wine critic Robert Joseph who has been watching the Indian industry for several vintages, had then confided in me that he was not worried about Pernod Ricard because he was sure that they would get enological and viticultural help from the parent company in Australia and were capable of improving their quality. The very next vintage had won awards in the Indian Wine Challenge and the quality has been on the steady increase since then.

Andrew had his wine education at Roseworthy Agricultural College, now part of The University of Adelaide, before starting his global career in wine. With 25 years of winemaking experience in Argentina, California, China, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and of course Australia and India, I found it interesting that Andrew has been taking a shot at becoming a Master of Wine and had already completed a year. He says, ‘working towards the MW gives me an opportunity to visit international wine making countries regularly and taste many wines. Staying at one place like Adelaide can make you a bit rusty,’ quickly adding ‘I am fortunate enough to be in Adelaide where many MW tastings are held and I don’t have to rush to London which is the only other important place for tastings’.

Viognier the Classical grape of Nashik

Seeing the amazing progress made by the Viognier (100% varietal - like Sula but unlike Grover-Zampa that still uses significant amount of Clairette in the Viognier Blend), Andrew strongly believes that Viognier would eventually be the classic grape of Nashik. Although the quantities would never be close to Sauvignon and Chenin the best quality would come from Viognier. Nine Hills has been making small but increasing quantities of the French grape varietal and he is pleased with the quality.

‘We did not know much about the varietal when we started with it in 2011-our first vintage (the company rolled out its wines in end 2006). But we made tremendous progress in 2012. The current vintage is very exciting. Fermented and stored only in stainless steel tanks, it is slightly off dry with a residual sugar of around 10-12 gms. Thus the sweetness is like Chenin Blanc in heavy contrast with the bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc,’ he tells me.

Click For Large View‘Though it is a Reserve quality, we don’t use wood and have priced it the same as the other varietals-at around Rs. 500- 575 unlike some other producers, who are selling it as Reserve,’ says Adrian Pinto. ‘The wine is very aromatic and has a fruity and spicy character,’ says Andrew adding ‘you will find apricot, peaches and some spiciness in our Viognier which is very aromatic. The good thing is that it is a great match with Indian food and that is an important characteristic for an Indian wine to have.'

Wait to taste Seagram’s Nine Hills Viognier 2013 on its release in a couple of months like me and decide for yourself if it tastes like the future Classic grape of Nashik. There are of course Nine Hills Shiraz, Cabernet, and an off-dry Shiraz Rose besides the 3 white varietals. If you are looking for wines with shades of oak and more complexity there are also a couple of Reserve variants - Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Nine Hills Viognier, Nashik, Australia, Andrew Miller, Adrian Pinto



Ajit Balgi Says:

It could be a boutique varietal more than classic as pockets of land will have be spotted where the Viognier can take its own time to ripen and get all the xtra care. The climate in Nashik suits Chenin and we can go all the way to be known for them.

Posted @ August 30, 2013 15:50


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