Grapes are the most important ingredient in home made wine. Today we will talk about different grapes found in the nearby fruit market and how to make wine from them. India cultivates 123 Thousand Hectares of Grape Vines annually. It even exports 1,93,690.55 MT in the year 2019-20.

90% of these exports happen to wine-producing regions of Europe. Netherlands, UK, and Germany. The other countries India exports grapes to, are Russia and Bangladesh. Yet the common perception amongst Indians is that is not one of the most prominent grape-growing country. However that being said, these exported grapes are table grapes and not the wine grapes that we are seeking today. Today we are going to talk about some of the grape varieties grown in India.

Grapes are called Angoor (अंगूर) in Hindi. Almost all states offer subsidy for growing grapes and promote horticulture. The major grape-growing regions in India are Nasik, Sangali, Bangalore, and Himachal Pradesh. Grapes are also grown in Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, J&K, Solapur, Pune, and Ahmednagar.

Bangalore Blue: Red Merlot Wine India
Bangalore Blue: Red Merlot Wine India

History of Grapes in India

The oldest reference to Grape wine is in 4th Century BC. Chanakya was chastising emperor Chandragupta Maurya for his grape wine drinking habits.

द्राक्षा मधुफला स्वाद्वी हारहूरा फलोत्तमा ।
मृद्वीका मधुयोनिश्च रसाला गोस्तनी गुडा ॥

In Sanskrit Grapes are called Draksha. However it has known to called in Vedic scriptures under different names like Madhuphala (Honey filled fruit), Swadvi (Sweet), Haarahura (intoxicating beverage), etc.

It is said that Portuguese promoted port wine in Goa and that became the dominant style for over a century. Today Wine is primarily consumed in office parties and special occasions. A wine with cork is considered as an excellent choice for gifts along with expensive imported scotch.

Wine Grape Varieties in India

Globally over 90% of the grapes grown are wine grapes. However, in India the majority of the grapes grown are table grapes. That being said it is not hard to get wine grapes. Today we are talking about seeded grapes with thick skins grown in India. They don’t have too much use as a table grape but can be used to make a wonderful wine.

1. Indian Merlot a.k.a. Bangalore Blue

This is the most widely grown wine grape in Southern India. It has a thick skin and seeds. Its pulp is white in color but the skin is black. If you soak it in water and pop the skin carefully, one can make a decent white wine from this grape. Otherwise, if you squeeze it with grape skin the resulting juice will be red in color. Here is a simple recipe to make red wine from Bangalore Blue.

If you are unable to source it from your local fruit seller, then please visit Hopcoms near Karnataka Wine Board, Lalbaug. You can also buy them from Bangalore Fruit Market (Hosur Road next to BETL exit Electronic City). This grape variety constitutes 15% of grapes grown in India. It is rich in natural tannins and has a fairly acidic juice. This grape is very popular in Port wines of Goa too.

Bangalore Blue is not a pure Merlot wine grape but a complex hybrid that is part of the family of Vitis labrusca a.k.a foxy grapes. These grapes are jack of all trades i.e. they can be used for wine production, table grapes, or raisin making. This flexibility shields the farmers from the uncertainty in the prices and market around harvest season and reduces the risk to the producers.

Another genetic advantage of these foxy grapes is that they are skip-skin grapes. That means that the grapes soaked overnight can be skinned with ease. This makes them ideal for the flexibility of making a batch of white wine and red wine from the same harvest. Champagne or sparkling white wine is favorite for most celebrations and office parties.

The Arabian Pulpy orange juice concentrates that we get in the market are usually made from Bangalore blue. If you don’t like going to the farm and picking the ripest vine, then buying this orange juice concentrate along with some pectin enzyme is not a bad idea. (Orange juice helps regulates the acidity which is a problem with less tart table grapes. It also reduces the thickness/body of the juice to a more palatable level).

Merlot a.k.a. Bangalore Blue in India
Merlot a.k.a. Bangalore Blue in India

This grape is a dual purpose grape. It can be used to for making red wine, as a fruit, in the juice industry, for making Brandy and port wine. If you are in the grape growing region, then I would encourage you to buy a couple of vines from the local horticulture office. This is versatile enough and will support a variety of your experiments.

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2. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir

These grapes were introduced in India by Chateau Indage. Today most Indian vineyards growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir are under contract with major wineries. It is a very resilient grape variety and grown extensively around Nashik region.

Cabernet Sauvignon

However, don’t be disheartened. Almost all seeded black currants available in the Indian market is actually a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The size of the grape is small and the skin is thick. This makes it hard to be used as a table grape. It has a very high seed to pulp ratio 1:12. This makes it ideal for most traditional dry and full-bodied wines. If you ferment in Indian conditions (above 30 degrees Celcius) after maceration, then a phenomenal amount of phenols and tannins are released. A further exposure to oak chips during aging and secondary would lead to an amazing wine tasting just like a European dry red wine.

3. Gulabi (Muscat): Red Globe Grapes

Gulabi Muscat wine grapes India
Gulabi Muscat wine grapes India

The big red globed seeded grapes that you see in the market are most likely Pink Muscat Grapes. It can be used to make variety of softer wines and brandy. Do remember you don’t need to buy pink grapes to make Rose wine.

Its big red globes 20-25mm in diameter are hard to miss. They are also one of the most premium of the grape varieties in India.

4. Anab-e-Shahi or Dilkhush

This is called Chardonnay of India. It is versatile and favored by farmers over black seeded grapes. India is primarily a white grapes growing country. White grapes lack the tannins and phenols required for a full-bodied wine. However thanks to the sweeter Indian palate, it is hard to not like White grapes.

Anab-e-Shahi Dilkhush white wine grapes India
Anab-e-Shahi Dilkhush white wine grapes India

Wine makers have successfully made Pinot blanc, and Ugni Blanc from these two grape varieties. These are big seeded grapes that are called Dilkhush in Karnataka and Anab-e-Shahi in Maharashtra. However, their taste and profile are very similar. You can try making still and sparkling wines (Champagne of India) with them. Here is a simple recipe.

The munakka or the seeded raisins that you find in the stores are more often then not Dilkhush grapes.

5. Other wine grapes

Some other Red Wine grapes include

  • Shiraz or Syrah
  • Zinfandel (grown primarily in Himachal)
  • Pinot Noid (iconic tightly clustered black grapes that is used in most photoshoots)
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cinsaut: It is like a black sheep in the wine world. The yield and harvest is very high. This coupled with fast growth rate and low maintenance makes it a farmer’s choice. However it has a much mellow flavor profile. So its used for blending at best. However it is ideal for Indian climate because it is drought resistant.
  • Pinotage: It is the signature grape variety for South African wines. Discovered in 1925, it is the newest entrant in the list.

Dessert White Wine Grapes

  • Chenin Blanc: It is so high in acidity that even the ripest grape is hard to eat. Since it favors cold climate, it has been successfully planted in Uttrakhand and lower Himalayas.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Unlike Chenin, it is used to make dry white wine. However, you can make a decent Riesling. It is commercially favored in the southern hemisphere of Chile and New Zealand. It gives a uniquely sharp, intense, and pungent flavors to the wine. Unlike traditional grapes, this variety is high in malic acids. However it has yet to gain popularity in India.
  • Clairette: It is a green grape with a thin skin that is favored for vermouth.

Seedless Grapes in India

This is a nice article from Ministry of Agriculture on how to grow table grapes in India.

1. Thompson Seedless

This green grapes dominate India’s grape landscape. It is sweet seedless grapes that constitute roughly 55% of India’s production. It is harvested twice a year. Currently, about 1.12 Lakh hectare in India is dedicated to this variety. It yields about 20 tons per hectare of fruit, is very resilient and is the major export of India.

Video of Thompson Seedless being Harvested in Bangalore Karnataka

In North India it is also sold as Sonaka and Pusa Seedless in Northern India.

2. Manjri Naveen

This green grape was developed by NGCR in 2009. Manjiri is a table grape variety that has a more uniform globe that is preferred for premium table grapes. It ripens a month earlier than Thomson. Hence it allows the early harvesters to charge a premium before the bulk grape harvest hits the market.

Manjri Naveen green grape India
Manjri Naveen green grape India

3. Fantasy a.k.a. Black Beauty Seedless

This grapes requires heat and high sunlight to mature. Hence

Fantasy Black Beauty Seedless India
Fantasy Black Beauty Seedless India

4. Flame Seedless Grapes India

This tropical grapes was developed by USDA. It has a distinct Muscat flavors and ideal for southern peninsula. Its brix is 15-16 range which makes it not suitable for wine making. However adding some additional sugar can compensate for that.

5. Autumn Royale Grapes

It is a thick skinned seedless grapes. It is jet black in color and has a oval grapes

6. Blush Seedless Grapes

Uniform grapes of Blush Seedless India

It is a moderately acidic grape. Unlike Crimson seedless which is very acidic. Its skin is very thin, bruises easily but the fruit can survive cold storage for long. Its uniform-sized grape globules enable farmers to command a premium. You can find more about grapes and raisins in India at the Indian Horticulture website.

Wine Grapes Cultivation in India

Grape wine growing states in India
Grape wine growing states in India

ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) has written a nice document summarizing the best practices for the Indian Environment. Seedless varieties dominate Indian agriculture and most farmers are reluctant to grow wine grapes because:

  1. Payment practices: While seedless grapes work on cash and carry trade, most wineries insist on a credit period. This puts a lot of stress on the small farmers.
  2. While wines are being sold for 700-1000 per 750 ml bottle, the grape producers get only 20-50/- per kg for their fruit.
  3. Winery either own their own private farms or engage in long term contract farming. Now, these farms get access to the best of corporate & industrial support, testing, and harvesting methods. This makes it hard for small scale independent farmers to grow and market their produce.
  4. Fluctuation in uptake & prices. The table grapes have a very competitive market. Most Mandi’s have a stable price for quality grapes for domestic consumption. However, the prices for winery grapes often fluctuate a lot. Essentially more buyers, the lesser is the buying power, and better it is for poor farmers.
  5. Changing end customer drinking behavior. Traditionally Indian wine grapes were grown for port wines. Then grape brandy gained prominence. A couple of years ago for health reasons a lot of elite switched form whiskey and hard drinks to red wine and sweet sparkling white wine. Today fruit cider is gaining popularity. The wine grape demand is increasing but changing in customer behavior is making it hard for farmers to plan many years year for the right type of grapes.

Ankur

21 years of experience in Home Brewing and author of Arishtam (India's first homebrew Guide Book).