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.