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Talking fine wine with Vivek Chandramohan, chief executive officer at Grover Zampa Vineyards

By Jyoti Balani on 11th January 2021

India’s most awarded wine producers and pioneers of wine-making, Grover Zampa Vineyards, have recently launched a premium range of international wines under their flagship La Réserve label. The new range is in collaboration with Chateau D’ Etroyes, an estate deeply rooted in the fabric of French wine-making.

Under this partnership, the two novel additions – La Réserve Chardonnay and La Réserve Pinot Noir – take pride in a rich lineage with ancestries from the Burgundy region, where special care is taken to ensure that the essence of each terroir is preserved and revealed in every bottle. The wines have been created with passion and veneration for tradition, boasting of unique tangs that are sure to appease the Indian wine aficionados.

In this interview Jyoti Balani spoke with Vivek Chandramohan, chief executive officer of Grover Zampa Vineyards, to understand the idea of coming up with these wines, the current scenario of the Indian wine industry and future plans.

What was the thought behind coming up with these two new wines?

In March 2018, Chateau d’Etroyes, the Chalonnaise domain, with its 19th-century mansion and 49 hectares of vineyards, was acquired by stakeholders of Grover Zampa. The collaboration between the Indian and French teams resulted in the creation of a special cuvée, named La Reserve de Bourgogne, with the mission to help Indian wine aficionados discover the elegance and sophistication of burgundies, unjustly overlooked by foreign consumers.

It is extremely difficult, though not impossible, to produce good quality chardonnay and pinot noir in India. Therefore, the logical approach for us is to produce them in our newly acquired domaine in Mercurey, where the terroir and climate will ensure their unmistakable taste of Burgundy, and then export them to India for an introduction to the ever-growing crowd of Indian wine lovers.

Grover Zampa Vineyards recently launched a premium range of International wines under their flagship La Réserve label in collaboration with Chateau D’ Etroyes

How has the pandemic affected the wine industry in India?

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world over the past few months. Wine distribution channels globally were subject to massive volatility, including mass shut-down of the on-premise stores in many countries. Many states implemented an additional covid tax to the extent of 70-85% over and above MRP. In markets where special duty was enforced during the initial stages, value wines started selling more.

However, as the covid levy was withdrawn, premium wines were back on a gradual increase. Wine sales started picking up in markets like Karnataka where relaxation was provided for retails to operate and there wasn’t any additional levy of duty. Sales of super-premium wine were not majorly affected as compared to others, although there was a slight decrease. At home consumption, has been the new going out for people and hence we believe wine is the best companion for consumers post lockdown.

Online masterclasses, tastings, and vineyard tours have gained popularity and will continue in the post covid scenario. Consumers have also become mindful of their choices and prefer local premium wines over international wines.

Are these wines available all over India currently?

Currently, these wines are available in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore in India. However, we are looking to make it available in other cities too. This majorly depends on getting the licenses and registrations in place.

What is the USP of these new wines?

The wines come from the domaine which dates back to the 1720s, along with Grover Zampa which is the pioneer of Indian wines. The wines were launched under the coveted La Reserve range – hugely popular among wine connoisseurs since its launch in 1998. The wines have the pedigree of one of the most famed wine regions of the world and are priced suitably given the Indian market scenario.

Burgundy is known for its pinot noir and chardonnay and what will make this cuvée unique will be its readiness to pair optimally with Indian dishes (various curries for chardonnay, mild chicken masala, and chicken tandoori for pinot noir) while not compromising on its Burgundian typicality.

La Réserve Chardonnay and La Réserve Pinot Noir have ancestries from the Burgundy region, where special care is taken to ensure that the essence of each terroir is preserved and revealed in every bottle

Do you have accommodation available at your vineyards? If yes, what is the future of wine tourism according to you? What kind of wine tours are offered there?

We do not have accommodation at the moment but work is going on in our Nashik Winery and we should be able to hosts guests in near future. At the moment we only offer guided tours and tastings in Nashik and also offer to serve delectable cuisine at our Bangalore winery.

What are your future plans?

Our future developments are aimed at transforming the company into a multi-brand lifestyle business, increasing capacity, modernising production, expanding the brand’s global presence, and making the processes more environmental friendly. We plan to reach half a million cases in the next five years by reinforcing experiential marketing, increasing exports, and ensuring deeper penetration in existing markets.

Grover Zampa is one of the oldest winemakers and responsible wine advocates in India. We believe in constantly adapting to the new trends with innovation in our product offerings. With the onset of the coronavirus, there has been a rise in consumption of Ayurvedic remedies and herbal immunity boosters in India.

This very thought helped us to create One Tree Hill Mulled Wine which has similar traditional Indian spice ingredients used to make kadha. The concept of mulled wine would best complement the season of winter and Christmas festivities. There wouldn’t have been a better time to introduce this wine in India.

Chateau D’ Etroyes is an estate deeply rooted in the fabric of French wine-making

On introducing new technologies and newer methods, the company is also planning to buy clay amphorae to try some of the antique methods of winemaking as utilised in Georgia. It further aims to introduce drones and high tech sensors in the vineyards. The drones will monitor a vast area daily and their sophisticated equipment will help identify, early, certain diseases, and measure other parameters. New sap flow sensors will help conserve water by allowing irrigation only when there is the right level of hydric stress resulting in better grapes and less water wasted.

Having said that, our major focus remains on developing wine tourism in India. We are looking forward to welcoming wine enthusiasts and offer them a multi-faceted experience at our vineyards. Taking the same into consideration, we have revamped our Bangalore winery to give our consumers an end to end experience of winemaking.

With these grand plans, GZV is also working on expanding its portfolio in India and overseas. The import portfolio will grow rapidly to include wines from other producers which will strengthen our overall portfolio. Following the first step of a tie-up with Château d’Etroyes, in early 2019, we have started importing Burgundies made there under the La Reserve de Bourgogne (chardonnay and pinot noir) label.

Most importantly, GZV will continue its long tradition of making exquisite fine wines and the new winery has already introduced six new wines and plans to introduce four to five more wines in the coming months.

Does wine drinking have anything to do with age or lifestyles or just personal tastes and preferences?

It’s a combination of both, as one evolves with age tastes also evolve and become more mature, and if the disposable income of the person increases then he or she progresses more towards discernment. This translates from drinking table wines to fine, aged, and reserve wines. It also depends on occasion as the same person might have table wine everyday and fine wine once or twice a week or as a matter of fact, can also have a glass of sangria in a casual setup with friends or mulled wine. So wine drinking is certainly a combination of all the above parameters.

What’s the secret behind producing an excellent bottle of wine?

Many elements go into making an excellent bottle of wine and it starts right at the vineyards with the choice of grapes and viticulture technique. Then one should have an experienced and skilful winemaker and the right types of equipment. The terroir which is the climate, soil, complete natural environment, and winemaking techniques and vision of the winery is very important to make an excellent bottle of wine.

La Réserve has been designed to be introduced to India’s growing wine market

Do you think good wine is determined by its taste or harmony or flavour or ability to age, or simply if people like it?

Good wine is one that is right for the occasion, comes at the right price for the buyer, and along with the above parameters. Certainly, a wine should be well balanced, should reflect the true character of the terroir and variety, and then it’s a matter of personal taste.

How do you think your new wines pair with Indian food? And can you name some of your top food pairings?

The wines pair well with Indian food and we have paired a few dishes as a recommendation to best enjoy the wines with but the pairings can be extended to other dishes as well based on one’s palate. Here are the few dishes that we recommend.

With the La Reserve Pinot Noir: Paneer tikka, chicken tandoori, mutton kheema, chicken Vindaloo, vegetable jalfrezi, baingan bharta.

With the La Reserve Chardonnay: Amritsari macchi, malai chicken tikka, prawn pakora, aloo tikki, khasta paneer, navratan korma, vegetable biryani.

Do Indian wines have the quality to be good investments?

Certainly, some of the Indian wines have the quality to be a good investment. Some of the wines from Grover Zampa’s portfolio like Insignia, Chene, and Vijay Amritraj collection can be aged long. We are currently creating a wine library for this purpose wherein future consumers will get to also buy the same wines of different vintage and many past vintages as well.

It has been only the last five years that we have started producing some of these wines that can have longevity, so it’s a work in progress but we are optimistic that these wines can be aged for long, and as the Indian market evolves, can be good for investments.