‘Mahawine’ meet raises big toast to Indian wine industry

By Shyam Pandharipande and V. Vijayalakshmi, IANS

Nashik (Maharashtra) : Accounting for 70 percent of the country’s wineries and wine production, this wine capital of India nestling in the rugged Sahyadri valley of western Maharashtra lived up to its fame by hosting a watershed international conference on grapes and wine.

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Styled as ‘Mahawine’ by its organisers, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the three-day event last weekend saw a multitude of dhoti and whitecap-clad grape farmers jostling with expert delegates from France, Italy, South Africa and Australia.

There could not have been a more appropriate time for the first of its kind exclusive wine meet.

The industry has posted a sustained annual growth rate of 30 percent for three consecutive years, domestic consumption has crossed the target of one million cases and the hitherto reluctant table grape cultivators are tip-toeing to set up wineries!

“Wineries and wine grape cultivators used to be a part of agriculture conferences thus far. This was the first time that a full-fledged wine conference was held,” conference coordinator Deepak Kolhatkar told IANS.

Topics ranging from disease forecasting in grapes, vineyard designs and irrigation and ‘fertigation’ (irrigating plants with water containing fertiliser), management to bank finance and business development were discussed threadbare in six technical sessions spread over two days. The third day was reserved for visits to vineyards and wineries nearby.

Viticulturists like Johannes Jacobus Wiese from South Africa, Di Davidson from Australia and Enrico Bocca from Italy besides project management experts like Timothee Mougeotte from France and Steve Brunato, also from Australia, were impressed with the farmer turnout at the meet.

Maharashtra Minister of Public Works Chhagan Bhujbal, who inaugurated the conference and the expo, remarked to cheers from delegates that more and more connoisseurs are giving up hard liquor in favour of the more agreeable wine.

“Grape growers should make the most of the opportunity when the winemakers facing a supply crunch are ready to sign long-term contracts and offering a good price for as much as they can produce,” said the minister.

Pratap Jachak, a progressive farmer who owns an eight-acre vineyard in Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s hometown Baramati near Pune in western Maharashtra, agreed.

“Wine grapes require lower input costs, pest management is easier and there is an assured market,” he told IANS.

“With four wineries already booming here, the sub-district headquarters accounting for 82,000 tonnes of crushing this season will soon have more of them from industry giants like UB Spirits and Indage,” Jachak said, adding that a cooperative winery is also being set up in nearby Indapur.

“That apart, R.R. Patil (Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister) is also setting up a winery in his hometown Tasgaon in neighbouring Sangli district,” he said.

Jachak, leading a team of 12 grape cultivators from Baramati, was among 300 farmers who came to attend the conference from Sangli, Solapur, Pune and Satara districts of western and southern Maharashtra apart from Nashik, which accounted for the biggest chunk.

Some farmers had come all the way from Karnataka.

They heard with rapt attention the sentence-by-sentence Marathi translation of the presentations made by foreign delegates – some of whom drew applause by prefacing their talk with a winsome “Namaskar” – elucidating the intricacies of vineyard management and wine grape processing.

Jachak, who went up to Di Davidson after her talk on Trellis design for wine grapes for clarification of some finer points, later complained that the time allotted for presentations and question-answer sessions were far too short for assimilating the information and clearing doubts.

He was not alone expressing his disappointment.

The conference exhibition comprising 60-odd stalls displaying a whole range of vineyard and winery equipments, a sparkling array of different wine brands, foreign and Indian, and a slew of scientific gadgetry was as impressive and informative as the know-how stuffed technical sessions.

Among them was a stall put up by Gargi Group disseminating information about Asia’s only wine technology college it has started in Nashik.

Aiding the principal of the college, Damien Guerande from France explained the curriculum details to curious visitors. The institute’s founder chairman, Rajan Bachhao, was also present.

But why should “dhoti” clad, whitecap sporting cultivators have formed the mainstay of the wine industry conference instead of safari suits and silk saris?

Steve Brunato of LD Wines, Australia, answered the question.

“Remember, great wines are made in the vineyards,” he said while concluding his presentation.

True to the leading industrialist and CII Maharashtra council chairman Rahul Kirloskar’s description of the event, the conference was a milestone in the agro-industrial progress of the state.