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History of wine in India

The grape vine was probably introduced into north west India from Persia as early as 2500 BC - in the Vedic texts two drinks are mentioned: Soma and Sura; later historical works (notably Kautilya's Arthashastra - c. 300 BC) mentions Madhu (wine) of various kinds and qualities - some home brewed.

Down the centuries wine has been the drink of the Kshatriyas (warrior castes) - along with beer and spirits prepared from wheat/maize/barley in the north and rice/paddy in the northeast and south, and many of the royal Rajput Maharajas had their own, closely-guarded recipes for alcoholic drinks - for example Asha from Udaipur, Kasturi from Jodhpur, and Jagmohan & Manmohan from Kishengarh.

The Mughal emperors maintained extensive vineyards in the Deccan (Hyderabad); with the advent of the British in the 19th century local industry may have been revived (Indian wines were exhibited at the Great Calcutta Exhibition of 1884) but most vineyards were practically wiped out by the devastation of phylloxera in the 1890s.

Local and table grapes continued to be produced, notably for conversion into raisins - but cultivation of grape wines and wine production never got going - in part due to the strongly puritanical Gandhian philosophy of abstinence prevalent in the first half of the 20th century.

In post-Independence India (1947) the 'directive principles' of the Indian Constitution continued to discourage the consumption of alcoholic beverages and imports were severely discouraged; the mid-1970s saw all licensing (including that of alcoholic beverages) being brought under control of the Central Government and prohibition being imposed throughout the country.

Despite these constraints, wine-making continued in Goa using the 'Bangalore Blue' grape to make cheap 'port-style' wines; in the early 1970s Shaw Wallace set up a winery at Hyderabad for its 'Golconda' range (using locally-grown indigenous grapes), while the UB Group started a winery at Baramati in collaboration with Bosca of Italy (but again using the Bangalore Blue grape).

It was only from the 1980s when the government started giving support to the development of vineyards (principally that of table grapes for export) that Indage (Champagne India) came up with the first winery at Narayangaon (on the Pune - Nashik road) ; subsequently Grover Vineyards were established near Bangalore in early 1990s, and Sula Vineyards started by 1999 near Nashik.

However, it is really only in the last two years that wine consumption has taken off: in 2001 the government liberalised the import of all alcohol beverages - despite steep (200%+ ) customs duties, this has nevertheless catalysed the import of wines, and in Mumbai today over 100 labels are now available on retail shelves.

Local wine production is also set to grow rapidly: a number of initiatives in Maharshtra have given birth to several wineries (some set up by grape farmers themselves); Karnataka has a new Wine Policy on the anvil; and a National Wine Board and a Wine Institute are in the offing to give further impetus to the industry.