Subtropical Wine Growing

Introductory Remarks

Wine production is concentrated in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. All are located between the tropic of Cancer and 9 Degrees on the northern latitude, effectively making India a subtropical-tropical wine -producing country.

Climatic differences between regions occur due to the distance from the Arabian Sea, the altitude and latitude. These are easily observable in measures such as the monthly temperature averages, diurnal temperature variation in the winter or annual rainfall and its pattern.

All indian wine regions are located on the western Ghats, sharing a common volcanic bedrock. Soil diversity is, therefore, subject to the vineyard's location in relation to rivers, valleys, hilly outcrops or fault lines, giving rise to fertile black soils, tuff granite or limestone.

IN THE VINEYARD

With only two seasons in a year: a cooler dry winter and a hot summer, vines have no dormant period. This shortens life expectancy and pushes vines to grow new shoots right after pruning. The potential for two or three yields per annum is given unless carefully tamed for the sake of quality wine production.

The indian vinter prunes twice. Foundation pruning is normally in May to prepare the vines for the monsoon season. Pre-growing-season pruning is normally between late August and the beginning of October. Timing is critical, because, onthe one hand, the earliest ist is done, the higher the mildew pressure as the monsoon is going out:and, on the other hand, the later is is done the later the harvest will be in the spring when temperatures are on the rise with the approach of the monsoon.

Two types of trellis are prevalent in the vineyards of quality Indian producers. The cordon system allows for a single -or double -Guyot and vertical shoot positioning (VSP), whilst the Y-Trellis is favoured in hot tropical areas allowing for even ripening and deeper colour as a result of the increased exposure to sun.

The Growing season falls between October and March, a dry period ensuring very low levels of disease pressure and necessitating irrigation, The change of temperatures during the growing season, however, is the exact opposite to that of traditional wine growing regions in the world. The mercury drops from bud break onwards and starts to rise again as harvest approaches. Hence is the skill of the winemakers required to achieve a balance between phenolic and sugar ripeness whilst retaining sufficient acidity in the grapes.

IN THE WINERY

The timing of the pre- growing -season pruning determines the harvest date. The earliest harvest is in the Hampi Hills in late December, whilst Nashik and the Bangalore and the South regions will harvest between January and March.

During harvest daytime temperatures easily reach 33 - 35C, necessitating early morning picking to protect the fruit from excessive heat.

Fermentation, most often induced by the inoculation of commercial yeast strains, requires the careful management of temperature and contact with oxygen due to the high ambient temperatures. Nevertheless, some Indian winemakers start to experiment with pre-fermentation skin contact and the use of open-top fermenters, giving rise to a new breed of styles and sophistication.

The ever more skilled use of oak is evident along with the increasing appreciation of the primacy of fruits, yielding more supple and elegant barrique fermented or aged wines.

A lack of regulation encourages experimentation with sparkling wines as far as grape varieties and lees ageing are concerned, thus providing an attractive stylistic diversity.