The consumption of fermented beverages in India has a somewhat uneven history due to a convergence of religious traditions — Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism — that have generally frowned upon such consumption. During the British occupation, wine drinking expanded, and vineyards were established in Kashmir, Baramati, Surat, and Goalkonda.
Any possibility of establishing a modern industry was thwarted by phylloxera, which wiped just about everything out in the 1890s. When India declared independence from Great Britain in 1947, the industry grew very slowly, but more than 60 years later, Indian vineyards and wine consumption are expanding at breakneck speed.
Obstacles and Opportunities
One of the greatest obstacles standing in the way of the development of a modern Indian wine industry is the fact that India is the world's biggest whiskey market, and many locals look at wine as just another form of alcohol, not a beverage belonging at the dinner table.
Another obstacle is that grape growers must often contend with a climate so humid that rot is a fact of life. Couple this with the threat of monsoons and many prospective vineyard owners abandon the idea altogether.
India does have indigenous grape varieties such as Arkavati, Arkashyam, and Anabeshahi, but these are mainly grown as table grapes, not wine grapes. The most commonly grown grape in India is Thompson Seedless, which is also found in most American grocery stores.
This is not to say that the situation is impossible. India has more than 1 billion people, and change tends to happen more slowly here. Changes in social mores are favoring wine consumption, especially among the young. In the last 30 years, three producers have come to exert the most influence in the burgeoning Indian wine industry.
Grover Vineyards opened in 1988 near Bangalore and counts among its winemaking consultants Michel Rolland of Bordeaux. The vineyards are home to Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc and are largely protected from monsoons. At about the same time, Chateau Indage began releasing sparkling wines made with French equipment. Stanford-educated Ranjeev Samant launched Sula Wines in 2000 and quickly developed the reputation as India's finest white-wine producer, most notably of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Future of Indian Wine and Wine in India
At the time of this writing, the Indian wine industry produces about 1.2 million cases a year, with more imported from Europe, Australia, and the United States. Yet another famous French winemaker, Stephane Derenoncourt, has decided to consult for Alpine Winery, recently founded in the southern state of Karnakata. Derenoncourt has consulted for the likes of Francis Ford Coppola in Napa Valley. In addition, on April 1, 2010, India joined the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine, an agency that helps uphold the most innovative winemaking and grape growing practices around the world.
As India grows more and more prosperous economically, wine consumption is forecast to rise 20 to 30 percent a year. Not bad for one of the youngest modern wine industries in the world.