Vineyards are multiplying in the Indian state of Maharashtra as farmers see ever more advantages to switching to wine grape-growing.

In the city of Nashik a group of enterprising table grape farmers has shifted to growing wine grape varieties. ‘Traditional table grape farming is becoming increasingly expensive and risky by the day’, said Prahlad Khadangale, a grower. ‘High input costs, uncertain demand and dependence on ever so greedy middlemen who leave nothing for the farmer, prompted us to look for alternatives’.

Khadangale owns 40ha of vineyards and is one of the beneficiaries of the new wine policy of the government of Maharashtra State, which has issued over 70 licenses in the last couple of years for setting up new wineries.

Khadangale’s Sankalp Winery is the first project in the 6ha Vinchur Wine Park being developed by the Maharashtra State Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC).

The 135,000 litre winery went into production last year. Other new generation wine producers from Nashik include ND Wines (600,000 litres), Flamingo Wines and many more.

Government is willing to help: the state’s revenue department has introduced a zero excise duty regime with 4% sales tax on locally produced wines.

Nashik is perfect for vines according to Rajeev Samant, managing director of Sula Vineyards, one of the top three Indian wineries currently producing about 540,000 bottles annually (and importing another 215,000).

‘It’s the microclimate,’ he said. ‘Nights are very cool and days are hot with average temperature in the mid thirties. The climate is dry with no excessive rainfall, yet water flows easily in the valley from the upper regions through canals. The soil, ranging from well-drained gravelly to silty clay is just perfect with certain vine varieties responding marvellously’.

Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc have been successfully planted.

As far as domestic sales are concerned, the increased local production, as well as higher imports thanks to the liberalised import regime of the federal government, is directly resulting in higher local consumption.

This is offset by poor supply and lack of consumer awareness, but the market is burgeoning, according to experts.

The market for premium wines grew by about 25% this year. It is expected that wine consumption in India will grow tenfold to reach about 60m bottles in the next 7-10 years.

With more Indians travelling and three out of five new restaurants opening in the cities offering non-Indian cuisine, Indians are rapidly acquiring new tastes and food habits.

‘The Indian market holds enormous potential for both domestic as well as foreign producers,’ one industry observer said.

Written by Rajiv Malhotra in Maharashtra