Our colum­nist meets the en­ter­pris­ing maker bring­ing In­dian wines to the UK

BBC Good Food - - Inside - @how_­to_­drink @plan­etvic­to­ria Vic­to­ria Moore

Vic­to­ria Moore ex­plains why it de­serves more recognition

They grow okra and co­rian­der here. There are fields of sugar cane and soya beans, palms and trop­i­cal fruit trees heavy with ba­nana, guava and pa­paya, none of which makes this the most ob­vi­ous place in which to grow wine grapes, which usu­ally flour­ish in a cooler cli­mate. Cer­tainly, when Ital­ian wine­maker Piero Masi ar­rived amidst the dusty hills of So­la­pur in Ma­ha­rash­tra in cen­tral In­dia, his ini­tial feel­ing was that the idea of mak­ing wine here was pure folly. Now there are 240 acres of vine­yards in this re­mote ter­ri­tory; and a bar­rel-aged red that Masi makes here from san­giovese and caber­net sau­vi­gnon that sells for £10 a glass at the Miche­lin­starred Gymkhana in London. Not bad for a ven­ture that, at first glance, seemed im­pos­si­ble.

Fratelli (brothers, in Ital­ian) is a joint ven­ture be­tween Masi and three sets of brothers – the Secci brothers from Italy and the Sekhri and the Mo­hitepatil brothers from In­dia. The se­cret to its suc­cess lies in de­ter­mi­na­tion – six miles of pipes had to be put in to bring a wa­ter sup­ply – and some clever think­ing. The sum­mers here are too fierce for grapes, so the vines are put into a false dor­mancy and the grow­ing sea­son is in­verted to run through au­tumn and win­ter. The project has not been with­out set­backs.

‘The first vin­tage was amaz­ing. The sec­ond and third were not. I said, “There’s a prob­lem here,”’ says UK im­porter Steve Daniel of Hall­gar­ten & Novum Wines. ‘Ac­tu­ally, an is­sue for the whole of In­dian wine­mak­ing is the smoky flavour that comes from yeasts and lo­cal bac­te­ria in the soils. So they re­alised they had to knock out those bac­te­ria at vine­yard level and be very pre­cise in the win­ery.’

Daniel is known within the in­dus­try for find­ing wines that are not part of the main­stream, and he be­lieves that In­dian wine de­serves more recognition. What grapes does he think have a bright fu­ture? ‘In this area, san­giovese looks good. chenin works well. Shi­raz is okay, caber­net strug­gles.’ The In­dian wine in­dus­try is still in its in­fancy, with most of the coun­try’s vines grow­ing grapes for eat­ing ei­ther fresh or as raisins. The big­gest and best-known In­dian wine brand is Sula, which is lo­cated about 180km north-east of Mum­bai. A sau­vi­gnon blanc made by Sula called Jewel of Nasik has been sold at Marks & Spencer since 2013 and it’s ac­tu­ally very good – lemony and fresh with a tiny sug­ges­tion of green chilli. Daniel once drank it with monk­fish mar­i­nated in yo­gurt and co­rian­der and cooked in the tan­door oven, ‘And it went bril­liantly’. But most In­dian wines are sold by spe­cial­ist shops or restau­rants. Of Fratelli’s new range of wines, MS (named for Piero Masi and Steven Spurrier, who is con­sult­ing on im­port­ing the blend) is the most suc­cess­ful for me; a blend of san­giovese, caber­net franc and syrah, which has a slight smoky back­ground that would go well with roasted spices (see page 28).

Six miles of pipes were laid to bring in a wa­ter sup­ply and the grow­ing sea­son is in­verted to run through au­tumn and win­ter

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