Nashik is India’s own Napa Valley, dotted as it is with wineries and vineyards of all shapes and sizes. And while I’ve passed through several times, I’ve never really been to the famous vineyards thus far. Little Vinsura Winery tucked away in the onion village of Lasalgaon was my first proper visit to a winery in India’s Wine Capital. I didn’t have time to go to their vineyard but I did enjoy a sumptuous lunch, a visit to the rock garden and an enjoyable wine tasting session with proprietor Vikrant Holkar guiding us through the history and nuances of wine.
It’s surprisingly difficult to find a history of viticulture in India. Given our religious aversion to alcohol, the wine industry didn’t have much encouragement until the 20th century. I even recall a Sanskrit verse that preached against the ill effects of sura or wine. That wine needn’t be just an intoxicant but a healthful journey into the awakening of one’s taste buds is a notion heartily endorsed by Vinsura Winery. The owners Sadashiv Nathe, Pralhad Khadangale and Kishor Holkar were initially grape farmers. They decided to try and produce quality grapes for the many wineries in Nashik. When they met with success, they inevitably experimented with setting up their own cooperative winery.
Sankalp Winery eventually became Vinsura Winery after Vikrant Holkar went to New Zealand to study the science of wine production. Today, they have 250 acres of vineyards with a production capacity of 600,000 litres. I saw and tasted a variety of table wines at Vinsura Winery but they also have their own label of sparkling wine. They are in fact the third Indian wine maker (after Chateau Indage and Sula) to produce a sparkling wine in 2007. Come 2010, the proprietors introduced three aged wines, termed as ‘reserve wines’. Aged for two years in large oak barrels, these premium wines are much more expensive than the other table wines. (Source)
According to Wikipedia, Persian traders introduced wine in India in the 4th millennium BC. The mughal emperor Jehangir apparently had a penchant for brandy wine. India’s burgeoning wine plantations suffered a setback when the phylloxera epidemic, also known as the Great French Wine Blight swept across the country. But everything was back to normal by the time The Tonia Group in Goa began manufacturing wine. This was the early 1980s and Tonia was assisted by French winemakers in its endeavours. Today, India is home to at least 90 wine producers and around 17 million litres are produced annually.
The rock garden
Wine tasting session
Before tasting the wines, Holkar took us through the familiar process of swirling, sniffing and then swishing a large mouthful of wine to ascertain its various notes. One myth he helped dispel is that only red wine is healthy. The antioxidants in wine come from the skin of the grapes and while it is true that all of it is retained in red wine, around 95% is retained in rose wine and 90% in white wine. So the difference is negligible. Holkar also told us how port wine is made – it’s essentially wine remnants mixed with sugar and alcohol and hence much cheaper. He told us that red wine is the most bitter and white wine the sweetest. Rose wine is the oldest type of wine but today, people prefer either red or white.
To be honest, I did not enjoy the red wine at all (too many dregs) but I quite liked the white wine and took home a bottle. The rose wine left me unmoved (too light) though my impression was far from negative. The dessert wine was treacly and sweet and though pleasant, not ideal for extended consumption. A wine-based soft drink we tried proved to be quite interesting and is an inexpensive choice for non-serious drinkers. We were unable to taste any of their sparkling wine. Holkar also showed us a device used to extract the oxygen out of an opened wine bottle so as to keep the rest of it fresh.While storing wine, remember that heat and oxygen are its worst enemies.
Wines at Vinsura Winery are available at heavily discounted rates. The wine tasting is priced at Rs 100 for four wines. Find more information here.
Enjoy travel, food and wine? Claim your free subscription to our articles: