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KRSMA Wine Estate ready to Launch in Bangalore

Posted: Tuesday, 21 January 2014 16:44

KRSMA Wine Estate ready to Launch in Bangalore

Jan 21: One of the newer wine companies in Karnataka, KRSMA is ready to make an entry in the Indian market with the launch of its signature Cabernet Sauvignon along with Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in Bangalore on February 1 at JW Marriott, writes Subhash Arora who was the first person since its readiness to enter the market, to be invited to visit the estate last week by Uma and Krishna Prasad Chigurupati, the wine marathon couple from Hyderabad owing the property

Click For Large ViewOne thing KRSMA can be sure of is that it can be an excellent destination for wine tourism, provided it can add a helipad and start a helicopter service. The 2-hour flight to Hyderabad from Delhi is cushy compared to the 6-hour stretch by car to traverse the 300 km distance from Hyderabad to a village called Tawargeri in Koppal District in Karnataka and if you believe in Google Maps, the time through the shorter route that gives you a free insight into the rural life in Karnataka would be longer. It’s more time to go from Bangalore that might be logical to most but with about 10-11 hours by train to Hospet which is 12 kms from the globally well-known UN Heritage City of Hampi, and another drive of 1.5 hours to the winery and vineyards made me smile and claim I had taken the shortest route to KRSMA Wine Estate.

Once you reach the estate, you are in a different world. The cliché ‘jangal mein mangal’ could not better describe another location. The winery is perched on the top of a hilly patch with slopy vineyards with complex contours that can be seen at quite a distance from the winery.

There is hardly any civilization for miles around the property which is around 200 acres of land and is so undulating that it reminds you somehow of the golf course in Naldera on the hills, near Shimla. The vineyards are sloping not only from north to south but also east to vast, west giving them not only a poetic look but also a unique terroir which the couple is in the process of mastering while growing grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay with diverse results, in about 30 acres.

Click For Large ViewAlmost half of the total plantings are Cabernet Sauvignon which is doing extremely well here. Another 4.5 acres each are devoted to Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese. Merlot and Chardonnay comprise about 7.5 acres. The yield is very low for Chardonnay but the fruit quality is very good, says Krishna, while Merlot is stressed and both the quantity and quality are not to their satisfaction yet.

Harvest time

It is beautiful all around at any time of the day, but the harvest time presents an astounding sight. As a routine, the Chigurupatis start the harvest just before sunrise when it is cool (the soil and grapes were at 11° cool when I went with them to the vineyard) and the help arrives - a total of around 50 take up their position. The crops are covered with imported nets to prevent birds beaking away the fruit. The nets are taken off a night earlier so the work goes at a fast pace and the harvesting for the day is over by about 9.

The grapes are tasted every day by Uma who is present throughout the harvest. Although there is an in-house Australian Enologist Kelly to advise, the final decision is left with Uma who, after tasting the fruit and in consultation with the staff decides which plots are to be harvested the next day or the next. Regular tasting of the fruit juice is carried out. She is so involved in the harvesting constantly that the decision may be taken last minute to harvest a parcel the same day or wait for another day to give full ripeness to the grapes.

Click For Large ViewGrapes are carried in plastic trays for the cold soak to the cold room – a reefer container that Krishna moved from Hyderabad where he runs pharmaceutical bulk drug manufacturing factories. That business is the mainstay for him and proves the dictum ‘you have to be a billionaire to make millions in the wine business’.

The Rs.1200 crore (Rs. 12 billion) industry places him in that category though he is quite modest and ‘matter-of-factly’ about it. With many similarities in the precise processing of the two businesses he is able to experiment a lot and is able to innovate in using the testing equipments for grapes and the process (for instances, storage of tablets and wine has commonalities). He is conducting stability studies at 50°C - an idea he has picked from his pharmaceutical company, Granules India Ltd. ‘With this study we can get the results of changing wine profile in 3 months that are equivalent to 2 years in real time,’ he says.

Love for oak and heavy bottles

One thing Krishna is not modest about is his emotional love for oak and heavy bottles. With over a 100 barriques imported from France lying in his cellars and only a few hundred cases of wine, it must cost him a pretty penny but also the wines are a shade on the oaky side. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is still not fully ready to drink; his Australian consultants have told him he should keep them under wraps for two more years when they could fetch more than double the current price in the international market. But he feels that after 4 vintages under his belt - 2010 was the first vintage which he refuses to sell - it is time to enter the wine market with Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and 2012, Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Sangiovese 2013 and Chardonnay 2013.

All the bottles, corks, foils are imported from France. The extra-heavy bottles used for Cabernet and the heavy ones for other wines cost him a packet to buy (the cost can be a mind-boggling equivalent of some low-ended bottled wine). He believes that the discerning customers perceive wines bottled in heavy bottles as better quality. Though he is not alone in the industry globally-one finds many in Italy, Spain etc. too who think alike-but with carbon footprints being the hotly debated subject, it would be interesting to see if he changes his opinion or proves everyone wrong by creating a niche in the market as the iconic wine of India aided by these heavyweights. He strives to make the best and the most expensive Cabernet Sauvignon in India - in fact he has his eyes set on Napa and privately, hopes to challenge the best of California Cabs in the distant future.

Working with Australian consultants including Peter Hays (former President of OIV) who believes that the best of fruits can be obtained from the very first year, he is confident that as the vines get older-some are already 6 years old- he will be able to improve the quality still further.

Estate and not a Winery

Click For Large ViewAnother plus factor is that KRSMA is a wine estate and not a winery. According to the wine laws and conventions practiced outside India, an Estate makes wine always from the grapes grown at the farm. Sula, Grover, Nine Hills, Four Seasons are wine companies for that reason. Hopefully, this fact will be recognised by the new wine laws that should come into place soon from IGPB/FSSAI. In most countries, Estate is a winery that makes grapes from its own grapes. With enough land in the bank, the Chigurupatis would not feel the need to buy grapes from outside. Despite the sufficient land, KRSMA has been trying to acquire more land around the present location in order to improve the landscape and beautify the areas and undertake projects that enable self-sustainability.

Krishna believes in the ecological balance. All the material used for construction and façade etc has been from local materials. The landscaping is being done using the rocks being excavated for preparing the land for vines, even the fauna is with increasingly local varieties. In fact, the area is blessed with interesting soil that includes rocky and red-soil. 

US and UK after Bangalore

The launch scheduled at JW Marriott in Bangalore on February 1, 2014 is the starting point for KRSMA wines marketing. At the risk of sounding arrogant Krishna says with confidence that the market after Karnataka to be tapped would be the US and UK, not Maharashtra or Delhi. The reason is simple - he believes and he is not wrong, that his top wines are of excellent quality that can compete in international markets - a conclusion he draws based on his several visits overseas throughout the world for his pharmaceutical business as well as the marathon races he has been running with his wife Uma across the globe. He is non-conventional in his approach because that’s what made him successful in his core business too. ‘There were hardly any Indian bulk drug companies that were exporting drugs-barring Reddy we would have been the first in exports of bulk drugs’ as he rattles a figure of a few lakhs of his tablets, being popped every second somewhere in the world.

With offices all across the globe, he plans to use the synergy to market his wines. He has already hired a person in the UK office as well as in New York to tap the restaurant business and is quite hopeful about cracking the on-trade market with the quality of his product. All exports will be handled from his UK office.

When I remind him of another US resident Girish Mhatre who had started Good Earth Winery by getting wines made at the York winery facility in Nashik but had not succeeded in really cracking the export market, he is non-plussed. ‘I am sure with the quality we are producing we shall have no problems,’ he says and adds as an after-thought and half jokingly, ‘if it doesn’t work, I will drink my wine and come here to the vineyard with friends for a mini vacation.’

Click For Large ViewHe could well afford to do that. He has built a 5-greens golf course behind his main factory in Hyderabad where his friends come and play golf occasionally - he doesn’t play golf!

It is unlikely that his wines will not do very well with discerning palates. It is not very likely that he will make any money for a long time till he brings the costs down, He does not like to discuss money - the investments, the ROI and similar questions regarding the business model. He is quite happy that the core business offers him enough financial independence to follow his passion.

And talking about the helicopter service to the winery, he has already thought about it. 'At a later date-now is not the time to think about it, I will work on a small aircraft landing at the vineyards-helicopter service is not a practical idea,' he says with a smile.

Undoubtedly a new star is being born in Karnataka on February 1 and unless the marketing plans go awry the wines and winery should be as beautiful and grand as the rising sun every morning in the vineyards located in a small hamlet of Karnataka, 6 hours southwest of Hyderabad.

Subhash Arora

Voluntary Disclosure- The hospitality was provided by KRSMA in exchange for two days of my time-editor


Tags: Karnataka, KRSMA, Krishna Prasad Chigurupati, Tawargeri, Peter Hays



R. Dunn Says:

Glad to hear that a plane is in your thoughts

Posted @ February 03, 2014 15:12


Neelima Tripathi Says:

Way to go Uma & Krishna! All the very Best! Neelima

Posted @ January 22, 2014 15:05


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