Meet Abhay Kewadkar, India’s first wine maker who raises a toast to his incredible journey as a vintner
Whether you are a connoisseur, slugger, sipper or explorer of wines, whether you like your wines silky, aromatic, sweet, dry, or crisp, the world of vintners is fascinating, as is their exotic merchandise.
Besides the lush crops of their vineyards, they also create beautiful blends for wine lovers, with flavours as diverse as peach, cranberry, lemon, green apple, and pink grapefruit. From the full-bodied tastes of Cabernet Sauvignon to the lighter notes of white wines like Chenin Blanc from Anjou in the Loire Valley, there is a wide landscape of wines to explore and enjoy at leisure.
In an exclusive interaction with wine maker, Abhay Kewadkar, Director, Tetrad Global Beverages, we get to hear about his career and journey with wines, fuelled by passion and high energy. It has been an intoxicating journey in more ways than one and he has loved every minute of all the excitement.
Sip, swirl, and swallow
Abhay is a chemical engineer by profession, but as soon he graduated, he decided that he wanted to do something path-breaking. “Looking back, I think I was just fortunate that I got an opportunity to be a wine maker,” he says.
“The Indage group of companies was coming up with a 100-percent EOU (Export Oriented Units) project to make sparkling wines in collaboration with the French in India. They were looking for young engineers to be trained as wine makers and future managers. I was selected and after a few months of working with French wine makers, I was sent to France for six months to work in different wine regions of France.”
Learning from the best in the game in France with champagne makers was a huge opportunity for Abhay and that is when his career started falling in place. Abhay worked with Chateau Indage, and by 1988, he was responsible for both their wineries, one that was focused on 100-percent export and the other on the Indian market.
Project Grover to starting up
Some years later Abhay realised that he wanted to learn much more about ‘still wine making’ and broaden his knowledge of wines. So, when the opportunity to start a new project with Grover Vineyards in Bengaluru to make still wines with a French collaboration cropped up, he wanted to be a part of the plans. During the stint with Grover, he was able to put Indian wines on the global map and also had the opportunity to work with Michel Rolland, one of the world’s best consulting wine makers.
Abhay worked at putting Indian wines on the global map
After his stint at Grover, Abhay joined United spirits Ltd and, later, he became Executive Director & Chief Wine Maker at Four Seasons Wines Ltd.
It was only in 2018 that Abhay decided to start his own company, Tetrad Global Beverages, with his co-founders Rishad Minocher and Joseph Andrade. Bengaluru was a very good location for their vineyards due to the weather in the city. The high altitude of 920 metres ensured that days were warm and nights remained cool, which are a must for a good grape growing location.
Of wines and vineyards
According to Abhay, good wines are made almost all over the world now. European countries have been traditionally making commercial wines for over four centuries now. Countries like France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are referred to as classic old-world wine regions, whereas countries like Australia, New Zealand, the US, South Africa, etc, which started making wines in the last century, are referred to as new-world wine regions.
The best wines, as a rule, come from the specific location in a particular region and always originate from a particular vineyard. This association is famously referred to as "terroir”, like Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, Rioja in Spain, Douro Valley in Spain, Napa/Sonoma in the US, Barossa valley in Australia, and Marlborough in New Zealand.
The well-travelled vintner
Abhay has to travel often to wine making countries to learn about the craft. “France is definitely my favourite for its culture, heritage, great quality wines, and the pride French people have in their culinary traditions. There is so much diversity in wine growing regions in France.”
His next favourite place is Italy, with its amazing choice of wines and cuisine and because every village has something different to offer.
The Rioja region in Spain is famous for its wines
“Rioja region in Spain is wonderful too. Amongst lesser wine countries, Croatia is my favourite with its breathtaking landscapes and unexplored locations,” adds Abhay. “I have also enjoyed driving through different wineries and tasting wines around Napa and Sonoma Valley.”
Wine pairing 101
Wine pairing is an important aspect of fine dining nowadays
Since pairing of wines with food is an important subject that wine lovers discuss, Abhay has some information to offer. “One of the things that I have learnt over the years is wine and food pairing can be very subjective to individual choices and can vary from region to region,” he says.
Abhay says that the simple rule is what grows together goes together.
For example – biryani, which, according to a recent study, is Bengaluru’s most favourite dish, goes well with red wine like Zynfandel or a merlot as biryani is cooked by the process of dum pukht (slow cooking). As a result, every grain of rice is flavoured with spices and meat. It hence requires a medium-bodied fruity style wine.
Here are Abhay’s tips to wine pairing:
- Pair heavy food with heavy wine; light dishes with light wine
- Match fatty foods with higher tannic wines
- Pair acidic dishes with acidic wines
- Spicy foods require a semi sweet wine (contrast pairing)
- Consider the level of salt in the dish
- Pair sweet dishes with wines that are little sweeter than the cuisine
One of the oldest techniques to extract wine is basket pressing, where the wine grapes are filled in a wooden cage and a cylindrical slate is push down to extract the wine. The other technique is the Méthode champenoise, which is a traditional method of making sparkling wine in the region of Champagne. In this method the second stage of fermentation happens in the bottle.
There are different techniques of grape processing in the vineyards
The latest technique to improve quality of the wine is individual berry sorting using optic science and pressing the wine in a press under inert conditions. The drum is filled with inert gas and pressing is done in close condition to avoid oxidation.
Wine inspired life lessons
“The first lesson I learnt from the vineyards is always take your time but do things right,” says Abhay. “Never hurry things up and try to follow unrealistic timelines. Always keep eyes open for details and keep ears open for any feedback or market realities. Your personal opinion or passion should not override your business sense. Everyone makes mistakes, but one must have continuous review system in place so that corrective actions are swift.”
Another important lesson he has learnt is that there is no time to experiment as budgets are always tight and repercussions of mistakes can be high.
Abhay believes that an entrepreneur must always be open to changes
“Lastly, I have learnt to always innovate and be open to changes. Market realities and statutory laws are open to change all the time so one has to be on the toes and be prepared for any setbacks,” he adds.
When asked about the kind of advice he would give those who want to venture into the business of wines, Abhay says, “If you want to become a professional wine taster, I would advise you pursue this passion not in India, but in more developed wine-consuming nations. In India, considering the high taxes and duties, wines are just too expensive and the choices are not many. To hone your skills, you need to taste a lot of wines.”
For the love of barbeque
When he is not working, Abhay loves to stay fit and enjoys going for long walks and swimming. But his all-time favourite pastime is cooking on a barbeque for his friends and family.
“Barbeque is one of my favourite cooking techniques and I like to experiment with styles and ingredients,” he says. “For example, recently at my last cookout, I served up barbequed chicken with blue cheese and Patrani macchi marinated in young vine leaf pesto and covered with vine leaves.”
A glass half full
Abhay says that in Tetrad Global Beverages, they have started with importing French wines, including importing the wine range under the brand ‘Early Dark’, owned by the company.
Wines from Italy are famous globally
“Going forward, we will add wines from famous regions of Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Portugal. Discussions are also underway to add Boutique style Malts, Gin and select Alcoholic Beverages,” he says.
As for his own goals, Abhay says, he would like to spend more time in philanthropy and become a mentor for students who want to get into the wine arena.
“I would also like to travel more across the globe and follow new adventures like scuba diving,” he says.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)