The Orchid room of The Oberoi, Bangalore is full of people, wine pros and wine lovers. Indeed, India’s wine cognoscenti, I’d venture to say. All invited by Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati, the owners of one of the newest entrants into the wine biz, KRSMA Estates, to participate in a vertical tasting of their flagship wine, the KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon vintages 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Sommelier Magandeep Singh comperes a Q&A session with the couple during the tasting, and the Chigurupatis speak with disarming candour about the initial trials and tribulations of winemaking in virgin terroir, to support their personal passion for wine. KRSMA Estates is India’s first noted wine estate to have its vineyards in the Hampi Hills in Karnataka.
A quick snapshot: the Chigurupatis’ currently have 40 acres is in Hampi, where the soil is schist and rock, with low humidity that draws the roots down deep, almost 10 metres already, mimicking Northern Rhone and other similar wine regions which produce warm weather wines with rich fruit and supple tannins. Their vineyards are now yielding Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. However, it’s the Cabernet Sauvignon that is Krishna Prasad Chigurupati’s pride and joy. So much so that after launching in Bangalore less than two years ago, he is already focusing on the New York market where the wine tops $30 in upper end stores and restaurants (Le Cirque). So Bangalore and New York. No places in between. As word-of-mouth accolades spread and demand grows, there simply aren’t enough stocks to go around, they say.
Theirs is a boutique winery in every sense of the term. No fancy big name winemakers, just the occasional visiting experts who also happen to be friends, to guide them towards making wines to their satisfaction. For Krishna Prasad, KRSMA is a labour of love first and a business second – he is giving the brand all the love he can muster. Uma nurtures the vines, and Krishna Prasad is the winery boss. Together they argue, disagree and ultimately collaborate to produce wines which will stand out from the crowd, not being driven by commerce and bottom line alone.
We sip the 2011 vintage of the Cabernet Sauvignon as it is poured after a long stint of double-decanting, we are told. The fruit is distinct on the nose and palate, creating a well-balanced wine of elegant structure. Being the first still Indian wine in magnum has also helped it age well. On the dais, the talk is about the relevance of vintages. “Vintages are valid everywhere – it’s the fruit that matters, making every vintage different,” says Krishna Prasad. “The grape speaks through the wine,” adds Uma. Add 12 months in oak – the Chigurupatis have experimented and made changes to create the style they wanted. The 2012 is dubbed the ‘great vintage’ to date, finding favour with the audience for its dark fruit and complexity, the tannins having softened sufficiently to create an excellent balance. Reminiscent of a young Cru Bourgeois, declares a pro.
2013 proved to be a bend in their path; a difficult year with unpredictable rains, reducing the intensity of the fruit. The Chigurupatis who weren’t happy with what they saw, decided to produce instead a second wine, called K2. “We argued at first,” admits Krishna Prasad. “Sure, it was good, but would never be great. We wanted KRSMA to be great.”
Then things looked up. 2014 was a stellar year, says the couple. “Fantastic weather, with everything happening in the vineyards at the right time. The fruit was promising,” said Uma. The wine we sip is young, too young to call, but shows promise under its strong, currently abrasive tannins (NB: Subsequently it has aged beautifully, like a stylish diva). “More New York style – quite in your face,” said another pro. If there was any doubt about Krishna Prasad’s admiration for Napa Cabs, then the 2015 vintage we taste takes any doubt away. Straight from the barrel, the wine is green, but with the promise of development a couple of years down the line.
Right now, 2012 is the vintage to drink, if you can get your hands on a bottle – or a case. It will be interesting to see how the Chigurupatis steer their baby vintages and the ones to come. But with one foot in New York and a winemaking style à la California, their intent seems quite clear. “We understand our terroir much better now,” said Krishna Prasad, “Hampi is a virgin area for growing grapes; no one knows what might work – which clones, or how much distance between rows. I’m still learning on the job.”
But they are already enjoying the fruits of their learnings. As Krishna Prasad says, “At KRSMA, the next vintage is the best vintage.”
KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is available in Bangalore at leading wine stores for Rs 1500/3250 (750ml/magnum) and in New York for $45