Chat Sneha Rao, one of the youngest winemakers in India, on what drew her to the fine brew
P in down Sneha Rao for a chat and you discover her ability to almost veer a teetotaller into sampling the best of wines. “You don't have to ‘drink' a lot of wine to appreciate its many properties. Follow the ‘four S' rule — see, smell, swirl and savour it to let the wine work on your palate,” she offers, on a balmy afternoon. The honour of being one of the country's youngest winemakers sits lightly on her pretty shoulders.
Sneha has conducted at least 10 training workshops on wine appreciation in India and hosted several wine tasting dinners and brunches.
Born in Hyderabad and raised in Bangalore, Sneha found herself leaning towards the science of fermentation during her graduation and post-graduation in microbiology. “There aren't many qualified wine makers in India since no school teaches formal wine-making here. One has to pursue higher studies with institutes in France, Italy or the US. Fermentation was my favourite core subject in Microbiology. When I got the opportunity to study winemaking I grabbed it. It was luck by chance and I started my career two and a half years ago. The passion only grows with each day,” she smiles.
As assistant winemaker for Big Banyan Wines, she honed her skills guided by the chief winemaker Lucio Matricardi, whom she refers to as ‘an encyclopaedia of wines'.
She's had the experience of two harvests and is planning to leave for her third harvest to Italy soon.
“The harvest is the most important learning ground for a winemaker, where you go through the process — sourcing the grapes from the vineyards to making the wine. The more harvest you do, the better you learn,” she explains. Her harvest experiences at wineries took her into the world of Valpolicella, Chainti and other wines.
Everywhere she has travelled, winemakers have been surprised at finding a young woman winemaker from India.
“Even in Bordeaux, it's rare to find a woman winemaker,” she smiles with evident pride. She recalls her amateurish attempts at making wine at home as a child. “Obviously they weren't good,” she laughs.
In the long run, she hopes to head a winery. For now, she's glad to share her knowledge about wines and dispel notions that Indian food isn't compatible with wines. “We've done tasting sessions pairing Kerala cuisine, replete with spices and coconuts, with wines. North Indian cuisine too pairs well with wines. A red wine such as Shiraz with its natural spice notes suit Indian dishes. A heavy bodied wine such as Cabernet will go well with chicken tikka masala. And the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani can be excellently paired with Shiraz,” she says. Cheers to that.
SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO