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Updated: May 21, 2014 16:14 IST

A romance uncorked

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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A PASSION FOR WINE Salony Kane.
Photo: R. Ravindran
The Hindu A PASSION FOR WINE Salony Kane. Photo: R. Ravindran

CHAT Winemaker Salony Kane on the Indian market and the need for good wines

Opened yet another disappointing bottle of expensive wine? Most of you probably react by giving up and turning back to friendly tequila shots. After all, they don't flounce around revelling in impenetrability.

Salony Kane on the other hand believes that wine can be gloriously romantic. “A story in a bottle.” The trick is to find a story that appeals to you.

Brought up in Pune, Salony made an unusual decision for an Indian student, and headed to the University of Adelaide to study wine.

“It started as an interest, which gradually grew,” she says. “The first year was pure science.” Turns out, drinking in the morning isn't really as deliciously decadent as Oscar Wilde made it out to be. “Imagine waking up at 7 a.m., and tasting about 200 wines in the cold cellar, all in different styles.”

Far from glamorous

Then, there's the actual physical labour. “A lot of us did part time jobs… We worked as cellar rats over the weekends,” she laughs, adding that cellar work, particularly during the vintage months, is far from glamorous. “For about four months you work ridiculous hours; you're constantly filthy, your teeth are purple with tasting, and finger nails are black with wine stains.”

Salony started out as a winemaker with the Nepenthe vinery in Australia (“Back then it was a lovely family-run operation. Now, of course, the big boys have bought them out. That's the story of the industry, really”). She worked with Orlando Wine (a big Australian winery which produces the popular Jacob's Creek), till very recently, and is now in Chennai taking a break.

Explaining her passion for wine, she talks of the romance of walking through vineyards. “You see the flowers, the fruit. You get it harvested, it comes into your winery, and you help it grow into a beautiful wine. Then you wait till it's ready, and that first sip is an absolute joy. It's so exciting, and it happens every year.”

Ironically, all the attention wine has been getting over the last couple of years hasn't done it too many favours. While wine has got some people fascinated for sure, there's no sign of the much-hyped ‘burgeoning market' yet. “If it was a growing market, would there be so much wine sitting around? Would there be so many grape contracts cancelled?” Salony asks, adding: “Europe is swimming in litres of wine — bad quality wine, admittedly. Australia is the same. Every man and his dog got into the business because it was so profitable. But, they're not selling. If there really was this huge middle-class hanging around waiting for wine, they would be.”

Winemakers, she says, should ask themselves what's moving. “Chances are it's the good wine that's found buyers. What's too expensive, what's not good quality is what doesn't sell.”

As for India? “We, the new latitude wines, have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes — no, I shouldn't say mistakes — the experience and lessons of the Old World and New World wines. I don't know if we're doing that. Right now, we're doing what everyone else is doing.”

Quality control

Salony adds that Indian winemakers need to work on quality control. “The biggest challenge in the industry is logistics. Transport and storage. Most wine gets cooked while it's being transported,” she says, adding: “I've tried some of these wines in the wineries where they're produced, and it's absolutely beautiful when they come out of the barrel.”

What winemakers need to do is introduce customers to good wine, instead of taking them for granted, she states. “It's a myth that people need to be educated. People don't need to be taught what tastes good. Seriously. They don't need to be taught about your wine. They just need an incentive to drink it.”

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