It’s not really a surprise that many people around the world are still quite unaware that India can make quality wine. I still often encounter astonished reactions during my travels – again not surprising because stereotypes of India in some parts still include elephants, flying carpets, poverty and heat – a lot of heat. Wine in India? Is it possible, I occasionally get asked. This is followed by a fascinated interest…tell me about Indian wines, the terroir, the grapes… and so on.
The curiosity and interest, along with the very visible gap in the market are some reasons why Peter Csizmadia-Honigh left his job at the Institute of the Masters of Wine (IMW) after a long stint as education manager to embark on writing his definitive tome on Indian wines called The Wines of India: A Concise Guide. “I just had to do it,” he told me during a visit to Bangalore to launch his book. “Wine production has been dynamically growing in India, but despite the qualitative changes, there is little known about Indian wines. Every country wanting to be on the world map of wine has got to have guides and books, helping consumers and the wine trade alike. Practically, there was a gap in the market, which I spotted and wanted to fill.”
There’s no getting away from the fact that Indian wines are still regarded very much as an exotic curiosity in the established wine world. “There’s no real understanding about what Indian wines are really like. There’s so little Indian wine exported even now, and very little supporting information from authorized bodies to help wine professionals understand it. Though the last 5 years have seen quality of Indian wine rise sharply – some wines are still dire, while others are not.”
One cannot agree more – the young wine industry functions fairly loosely as a whole, and there is no concept of terroir or substantive research to help producers from outside the ranks, nor regulations to enforce quality compliance. Which is why some pockets of dedicated, self-regulated producers are producing very good award-winning wines through their own efforts and resources, while others continue to flounder. To produce quality wine in India, you need patience, tenacity and deep pockets, as well as an abiding love for wine itself.
So for Peter, the writing of the book became something of an epic journey. The first three months were spent in research which often proved frustrating. “Sometimes my phone calls were answered by people speaking in Hindi or Marathi, and I’d try to explain I was a wine writer from abroad…. I achieved so little compared to what I wanted to. I was also a book production virgin, and it was hard pulling all the elements together – design, cartography, fact-checking.” The entire exercise took him 15 months, starting July 2014. In conjunction with the project, he had to keep working on his own vineyards in Hungary (Royal Somló Vineyards). Finally, in October 2015, the book was finally launched: it featured 50 Indian wine producers, 400 Indian wines spread over 452 pages with 11 detailed maps. “It helped that the people from the industry were so hospitable and opened their doors and their bottles to me,” he said. (more…)