Grover Zampa, Indian wine from the hills of Nasik
Driving through the dusty back roads of the Nashik Valley, only the hills in the distance topped by strange formations gave away the fact that I was in India’s wine country. I was on my way to visit Grover Zampa, one of the more well known wineries in the region. Accompanying me was my guide for the region, Manoj Jagtap. Manoj knows everyone in the region and his tour company, Wine Friend, is a very handy friend to have, indeed.
The landscape reminded me of a mix between the dry yellowish brown hills of Central California and the flats of La Rioja. I could almost imagine I was in Spain except for the numerous cows roaming the streets and the women in colourful saris walking on the side of the road.
Grover Zampa is unique situated in that they are probably the only vineyard that is actually on a hillside in the area. I was reminded of Crozes Hermitage, which I visited last June. The same slope with vines climbing up to about 2/3 up the side of the hill. The terroir on this side of the Nasik Valley is volcanic, with only a few feet of ferrous soil before the volcanic rock begins to appear. Despite the iron in the soil, it doesnt’ leach into the wines, there is however, a certain minerality that can be found in the wines.
The winery is a merger of two distinct wineries. Grover is one of the most well known brands in India and is based in Bangalore to the south. They merged with Valle de Pin to create Grover Zampa not long ago and are making wine in two locations in India.
Abhay Rajaria was my amiable tour guide. When he’s not shepherding journos around, he’s the assistant winemaker for the winery. Abhay studied in Montepellier and in Germany, spending time in Bordeaux and the Rheingau, so he has the benefit of a flying winemakers experience brought to India.
GZ specialise in Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, Grenache and Chenin Blanc. They also make two sparkling wines which I will get to in a separate post. The region is dry and hot but what makes it unique is the fact that they have two harvests a year. The rains come in June and last for about 4 months. That means in September, because it never really gets cold here, the vines are vigourous and producing in a matter of days. Normally harvest is in February/March.
As Abhay explained to me, this means that they have twice the work because they have to green harvest in the middle of the year so that the vines don’t get worn out too quickly. As it is, because the vines never go dormant, they are really only good for about 20 – 30 years. After that they quickly lose their yields and Abhay said that in India, they don’t have the luxury of keeping old vines. The oldest vines they have he reckons are about 20 years old. He pointed out a few parcels that had been grubbed up, waiting to be replanted as well as some very recent plantings.
After the tour, we sat down to taste a few of their wines that are available for export. They currently export to 30 countries with Japan being their biggest market. GZ do most of their fermentation and aging in stainless steel but they do use French oak barrels for some of their reserve wines.
Before we started tasting, Abhay explained to me that the Indian palate definitely prefers sweeter wines but at GZ they produce wines in a drier style, they are aiming to produce wines for more educated palates. I asked him if consumers tastes are changing in India and he confirmed that the younger people especially are creating a demand for drier styles.
The emerging younger middle class have travelled outside of India and experienced wine culture in places like Europe and America and want to replicate the same experiences here in India. Of course, there is one exception to this: Chenin Blanc. For whatever reason, Indians expect Chenin to be sweet. GZ do make a sweeter style of Chein but I wasn’t given the change to try it, I wonder why? 😉
The whites we tasted were Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. I found all of them to be quite aromatic but on the palate dry and fresh in general. The reserve Chenin and Viognier both spent time in oak and the results were delicious -creamy, toasty, balanced with hints of fruit but not sweet or cloying.
The whites were not the only wines that were showing well. We also tried their range of red wines; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They also do a bit of Tempranillo but at the moment it’s used for blending. Again, these were very well made wines, with plenty of acidity and tannic structure but at the same time plenty of sweet fruit. I was surprised as I was expecting big wines with super ripe fruit but these wines were the exact opposite. A fantastic introduction to wines of India – can’t wait for the next one!