“The discovery was accidental,” says Uma Chigurupati, co-founder of KRSMA Estates, over a phone call from Hyderabad. “The land where we have our vineyard is a long way from Hyderabad, where we live… My husband [Krishna Prasad Chigurupati] was recommended by an acquaintance, when its original owner was looking to sell.”
Uma, with her post-graduate degree in Soil Microbiology and Plant Pathology, and Krishna Prasad with his years-old reputation as a wine connoisseur and post-retirement dreams of owning a vineyard in the South of France, seemed ideal contenders to revive struggling grapevines in the hills of Hampi. That was 12 years ago. This year, in July, their KRSMA Estates made it to the list of 50 World’s Best Vineyards 2020, having made an impression on a jury of 40 experts — mainly well-travelled connoisseurs — in the country.
“We both know about viticulture, and we had extensively travelled to vineyards around the world. Of course, we had to pull everything out and plant anew, but we loved the landscape as soon as we saw it. I said — come on, let’s do this,” continues Uma with a laugh of recollection.
Those were busy years for the two — not only were the Chigurupatis helming Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical major Granules India, but they were also running marathons around the world.
“We thought it had not been scientifically planted, so we pulled out everything except one particular plot, just to observe how the vines grow. And the rest, we planted accordingly.” That first batch was of Cabernet Sauvignon. By the end of 2008, the couple had planted four varieties of grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Sangiovese using the inputs of a viticulturist flown in from Australia. Their first wine was ready in 2010. “We have to wait at least a year-and-a-half to see how the wine turns out, in any batch. I think that is one thing common in marathons and winemaking: patience is essential,” adds Uma.
But a vineyard experience is not necessarily just about the wine, says Magandeep Singh, noted sommelier and the panel chair for India at 50 World’s Best Vineyards.
“This award is for the world’s best vineyards: they are not commenting on the wine, but on the beauty of the vineyards, which is an aesthetic. Having said that, KRSMA has probably the finest wines that India makes, but this is not just about that.”
KRSMA, he says, is among a number of vineyards he had put up for voting before a handpicked jury. “But this award, in essence, would benefit all of them, and the industry as a whole, since it has put Indian vineyards on the map.” There a number of others in the country that, Singh feels, have the potential to become destination vineyards — not only because of their wines but also because of the experience they offer. “Deva wines (SDU winery) is located just outside of Bangalore, and has coconut palms in the middle of the vineyard, which is really pretty. Fratelli near Pune [a rolling green estate with a view of faraway hills] is more equipped to be a destination vineyard for, say, weddings. It helps that they are just three hours from Pune: you could take a 7 am flight from Chennai or Delhi and reach in time for lunch,” he adds.
Other vineyards he is optimistic about are those of Grover Zampa, in Karnataka’s Nandi Hills and the terraced slopes of Maharashtra’s Nashik Valley: “The vineyard right outside Bangalore airport is a lovely place to be and good for a weekend getaway. Their Nashik one has a beautiful cellar and tasting area: they have also done events there with tents.”
He adds that the KRSMA vineyard’s proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hampi plays a very large part in its overall appeal. “Though the crowd that visits and explores the ancient ruins of Hampi is probably very different from those likely to spend a weekend at a winery, it would nevertheless help for tourists to know that this option is close at hand,” he observes.
The taste of Hampi
“Hampi hills is an arid area, with very little rainfall. The soil is iron-rich and has lots of minerals, but plants won’t grow very vigorously because the lands are still virgin lands, without much organic matter. We get very little fruit from it, but we have turned that into an advantage because of the concentration of flavour. Especially in cabernet, we are able to get very good-bodied wine because of this terroir,” says Uma.
So what next? “We are looking at building world-class facilities, of course. For now, we will let the beauty of this place speak for itself.”
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