Pilgrim’s progress

Pilgrim’s progress: Liam Steevenson on his latest Shiraz

Besides the occasional awards, a loyal bunch of fans and immense curiosity value, has Indian wine really made its mark in the vast and varied international market? That is a tough question to ask, and answers are many.

The view is that Indian wine is improving, but is yet to see its time. Now, a clue that things are taking a positive direction comes with the news that UK-based Liam Steevenson MW (Master of Wine) is taking delivery of the first consignment of his own wines made in India in collaboration with local producer, Nashik-based York Winery. Named Yaatra, the product is a 100% Syrah (Shiraz) made in French oak. Made for Steevenson’s wine creation agency, Vineyards Productions (part of his larger wine consultancy, Global Wine Solutions), it is intended for export and not for domestic sale.

The Nashik connection

Steevenson has been a keen observer of the Indian wine industry for a while; in the last four years he has visited the country 12 times. In 2017, he brought renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson MW down, and the experts spent a few days touring Maharashtra’s wine regions.

One of the wineries they visited was York, a 10-year-old company run by the Gurnani brothers, Ravi (director) and Kailash (chief winemaker), which has been making a name for its portfolio of varietal wines. When Steevenson suggested working together, it seemed like a great idea: a collaboration which happened organically, according to Kailash Gurnani. He showed Steevenson barrel samples of his Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and “he loved the Syrah.”

Steevenson found it to have “an incredible depth of flavour. In Nashik, the grape has a red fruit purity with strawberry and raspberry notes I was keen to focus on,” he shares. A partnership with York seemed the way to take things forward. “This way, everyone shares a philosophy and the same dream,” he says.

What’s in a name?

Yaatra (“naming a wine is tricky; it’s like naming a child!”) came about in some part from Steevenson’s frequent travels to the region and his exploration of the people and culture. It is a wine made in a country known for its pilgrim routes. “It’s our journey, our Yaatra,” he explains.

The first production, in 2016, was tiny — a mere three barrels (850 bottles), but that is how Steevenson works. In other countries where he produces wine, he starts small and then scales up as the demand rises. His deep roots in the international wine industry and early academic success — he aced the world’s toughest wine exam to become the youngest Master of Wine in 2004 at age 27 — give him perspective. This, he says, is his ultimate dream: making wine in different terroirs across the world. “Wine has always been part of my vocabulary growing up,” he claims. “Winemakers sat around our kitchen table and summer holidays were spent in the vineyards in France.”

India is often considered a difficult place for wine, and Steevenson agrees it is challenging. “The climate pushes the boundaries of what is possible for the grapevine. However, there are a number of wineries managing the elements wonderfully well and making some impressive wines.” York, he believes, is one.

New world narrative

Steevenson believes that India has the ability to make world-class wines. “Everything is definitely moving in the right direction. And with the taxation on imported wines high, it seems sensible to buy Indian wine,” he says. As for his own decision to produce here, he attributes it to the desire to discover new wines. “In the UK, the new generation wants a story, to discover something new,” he shares. “They are far less interested in big brands; they want authenticity.” Customers are still astonished to find wines coming out of India. “It’s often a surprise but the reception is good,” he says, encouragingly.



News credit : TheHindu

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