In Interview with a winemaker

Ajoy Shaw is the chief winemaker at Sula wine estate in India. Sula is at the forefront of the Indian wine industry, and is part of the group of producers putting Indian wines on the world map.

What made you want to become a winemaker?

I had not planned to be a winemaker and was pursuing research in molecular biology for a doctorate. However, I realized after 3 years of basic research that I am not cut out for this. With my experience in fermentation technology at Masters level and a wine project done during my graduation I applied to an advertisement for a Trainee Winemaker. I learnt on the job that this is really an exciting job where you do not have mundane protocols and quality checks. I also realized how much there is to learn every year during vintage and with respect to tasting, blending and maintaining the quality. With more and more exposure, few harvests outside India, a couple of courses on Wine from London and I knew this was the job for me.

What are the challenges you face in India as a winemaker?

In India, we have vineyards which are growing throughout the year due to lack of a very cold winter. The harvest happens from end of January to end of March as grapes cannot grow well or ripen during the monsoon from June to September. Weather and temperatures at harvest are quite good with about 8 to 12 degrees at night and about 25 degrees in the daytime with hardly any rain. Labour is readily available and all harvest is done manually

However, it is difficult to convince the local table grape growers

– to take lower yields in the wine grape variety vineyards as dictated by the functional canopies.
– Use lesser Irrigation
– Planting on gentle or rolling slopes, retaining the land topography and not converting everything to flat   vineyards
– Harvesting the fruit early to reach the winery

With winemaking per se, there are challenges like:

– Getting flavor maturity ahead of sugar maturity
– Getting optimal ripeness in certain varieties
– Getting right level of extraction for the reds

As this is a new industry here, there are also challenges with:

– Lack of suppliers making winery specific equipment
– Importing consumables and getting material on time
– Managing quality with ever increasing quantities

Where do you see Indian wine in the future?

Indian wine is improving year after year and as the industry is quite young we are still in the process of figuring out which varieties and styles work for us. We already have a few wines of exceptional quality but I feel that in another 6-8 years we will quite a few good quality wines that could challenge top international wines

Who is your biggest influence in your winemaking?

I have been lucky to see and work with several winemakers from California (including our Consultant winemaker), France and Australia. However, I have been influenced more by different styles of winemaking. These experiences have taught me what to do, what to avoid and the right time/ vintage to do a particular process. Even after so many harvests, I feel there is still so much more to learn.

For more on Ajoy, visit our Profiles tab.

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