India is a rapidly emerging wine economy in terms of both production and consumption, and has the potential to become a significant player on the world wine scene. This stems from the fact that the country has consistently experienced the highest growth in consumption in the world – around 20–30% a year between 2002 and 2010. To meet this demand, a significant quantity of wine is imported annually but India also has a mix of well-established and evolving domestic wineries.
Historically, the introduction of vines to the Indian subcontinent and the subsequent proliferation of grape growing came from Persia in 500 BC. There is no evidence that commercial viticulture existed before the 19th century, when British colonialists supported the establishment of a local source of supply. However, just as the embryonic wine industry started to take shape it suffered a devastating blow from the outbreak of phylloxera. Religious and cultural vetos on alcohol consumption also proved to be a difficult challenge for the growth of Indian wine after independence from Britain. This continues to be the case in many parts of the country, where prohibition is enforced through local laws.
Despite these obstacles, a large-scale expansion in the Indian wine industry was experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of globalization and liberal economic measures, as well as notable initiatives in modern wine growing by producers such as Chateau Indage – India's first commercial winery. The current surge in wine consumption is largely driven by the growth of an affluent 'middle class'.
Because of its location, India is not an easy place for large-scale viticulture. With latitudes ranging from 10 to 35 degrees north, the climate can be harsh and the tropical conditions mean that vines have to cope with a short growing season in addition to extreme heat and an unforgiving monsoon. Typical summer temperatures on the plains can reach more than 116F (47C) and rainfall can be intermittent. The climatic extremes are also exacerbated by high levels of humidity rising from the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Additionally, Indian wine producers must protect their vines from conditions such as sunburn, fungal diseases and over-ripeness.
Altitude plays the most significant role in site selection, as elevation ensures cooler growing conditions and also protects the vines from strong winds if they are planted in sheltered spots. The altitude in some of the prime growing areas reaches 3000ft (900m). A varied range of nutrient-rich soil types, ranging from well-drained sandy variants to complex metamorphic formations produced by the weathering of rock, lends character to Indian wines.
The majority of India's wine regions are concentrated in the south-western part of the country, primarily in the state of Maharashtra but also in Karnataka. The slopes of the Sahayadri mountain range which forms the 'Western Ghats' have been identified as the most suitable place for viticulture, due to high altitudes and a correspondingly mild macroclimate. Some of the most well-known wine-producing areas in Maharashtra include Nashik, Sangli, Sholapur, Satara, Ahmednagar and Pune. In the state of Karnataka, the best sites are situated on the foothills of the Nandi Hills on the outskirts of Bangalore. Other notable grape-growing areas are found in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Jammu & Kashmir. A few areas in the north-east are also attracting attention due to their high location and cooler climates.
Since the beginning of the current renaissance in its wine industry, India has adopted a modern approach to production, both in its vineyards and wineries. Most commercial producers use phylloxera-resistant grafted vines imported from abroad. Contemporary vineyard practices, ranging from top-class soil and canopy management to a wide range of trellising methods, are used to combat the climatic extremes and control high yields caused by the fertile soils (it is not uncommon to find yields of 900hL/50 tons per hectare). Bordeaux's Michel Rolland is the consultant winemaker for Grover Vineyards – a well-known winery based near Bangalore.
India's low level of wine production contrasts with its total grape output of around 1.7m tons per year; the majority is used for table grapes and raisins, with only about 10% going to the production of wine. An even lower proportion comes from high-quality international varieties, although Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Zinfandel for reds and Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette and Sauvignon Blanc for whites are all grown. Thompson Seedless and Sultana vines produce the majority of India's grapes, with other notable varieties including Isabella (local name: Bangalore Blue) and Muscat Hamburg (local name: Gulabi).