Viticulture in India has a long history - with grapevines believed to have been introduced from Persian traders sometime in the 4th millennium BC. Winemaking has occurred throughout most of India's history but was particularly encouraged during the Portuguese and British colonization.
Following the country's independence from the British Empire, the Constitution of India declared that one of the government's aims was the total prohibition of alcohol. Several states became dry - and the government encouraged vineyards to convert to table grape and raisin production. In the 1980s & '90s, a revival in the Indian wine industry took place due to high taxes and duties on imported wines and the growing middle class started enjoying wine.
The first known mention of grape-based wines was in the late 4th century BC writings of Chanakya who was the chief minister of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. In his writings, Chanakya condemns the use of alcohol while chronicling the emperor and his court's frequent indulgence of a style of grape wine known as Madhu.
In the centuries that would follow, wine became the privileged drink of the Kshatriya or noble class. Under the rule of the Muslim Mughal Empire, alcohol was prohibited in accordance to Islamic laws. In the 16th century, Portuguese colonists at Goa introduced port-style wine and the production of fortified wines soon spread. Under British rule viticulture and winemaking was strongly encouraged as a domestic source for the British colonists. Vineyards were planted extensively through the Baramati, Kashmir and Surat regions. The Indian wine industry was reaching a peak by the time the phylloxera epidemic made its way to the country and devastated its vineyards.
The turning point of the modern Indian wine industry occurred in early 1980s with the founding of The Tonia Group in the state of Goa. With the assistance of French winemakers, The Tonia Group began to import Vitis vinifera grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Ugni Blanc and started making still and sparkling wines.
While a large portion of India is not ideal for viticulture, the large diversity of climate and geology does cover some areas with suitable terroir for winemaking. The summer growing season in India tends to be very hot, humid and prone to monsoons. Vineyards are planted at higher altitudes along slopes and hillsides to benefit from cooler air and some protection from wind. The altitude of India's vineyards typically range from around 200m in Karnataka, 300m in Maharashtra, 800m along the slopes of the Sahyadri to 1000m in Kashmir. Summertime temperature can reach 45°C and wintertime can fall to 8°C. During the peak growing season between June and August, rainfall averages 625-1500mm.
Some of India's larger wine producing areas are located in Maharashtra, Karnataka near Bangalore and Andhra Pradesh near Hyderabad. Within the Maharashtra region, vineyards are found on the Deccan Plateau and around Baramati, Nashik, Pune, Sangli and Solapur.
The heat and humidity of India's wine regions dictates many of the viticultural choices made in the vineyards. Vines are often trained on bamboo and wire in a pergola to increase canopy cover and to get the grapes off the ground where they would be prone to diseases. The tropical conditions often promote high yields which requires frequent pruning throughout the year. The harvest which is usually done by hand - normally takes place in February. In the very warm wine regions of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, grapevines can produce a crop twice a year.
India’s most popular non-indigenous grapes include the Bangalore Blue (Isabella) and Gulabi (Black Muscat). The Turkish grape Sultana is the most widely planted grape in India. In addition other imported varieties include, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc and Clairette Blanche have started to establish a presence in the Indian wine industry.