India’s wine country Nashik has a celebrated selection of vineyards and wineries, all of which attract a lump sum of tourists throughout the year. Among the many commercialised properties, exists an underrated gem – the Chandon Winery, in the Dindori district of Nashik.
A 19-acre plot located at the base of the Nhera-Ori Hills, the Chandon winery is about an hour’s drive from Nashik. The winery itself does not offer accommodation for its guests, however, there are quite a few options like the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Courtyard by Marriott and The Gateway Hotel Ambad by Taj Hotels which are all located in close proximity to the winery. Staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, it took us about 45 minutes by car to get from the hotel to Chandon.
The ride to Chandon can often seem longer than is, thanks to a few bumpy runs along the way, but pleasant nonetheless, thanks to the beautifully gloomy weather minus the rain. The final stretch leading to Chandon gives you a clear view of the property from afar, which is a sight to behold! The winery sits in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by one of the most stunning locations, with rolling hills, lush greenery and clear blue skies. Upon reaching Chandon, we were greeted by Kaushal Khairnar – Head Winemaker at Chandon India (Chandon’s youngest India winemaker), Ipsita Das – Managing Director of Moët Hennessy India and Amrut Vare Winemaker & Brand Ambassador for Chandon India (Moet Hennessy India).
Chandon through the years
After a short meet and greet, Kaushal Khairnar took us on a private tour of the property. Our first stop was a space called the Gallery Room. The Gallery Room was one of the most exciting spaces, showcasing the history of Chandon since its beginning in the 1950s. One of the walls in the room was decorated with pictures and portraits which told a tale of Chandon throughout the years.
Kaushal Khairnair took us to the very beginning of Chandon, where the first maison was launched in Argentina in 1959. “While we were producing sparkling wine in France back then, we wanted to cross our borders and experiment and get out of our comfort zone, which is when we landed in Argentina,” says Khairnar. From Argentina it was a whirlwind for Chandon, launching new maisons across the world, in locations like Napa Valley in California, Serra Gaúcha in Brazil in ’73, Yarra Valley in Australia in ’86 and so on.
A little further along the wall was a brief about the Chandon’s beginning in India. The plans for the winery, Khairnar tells us, had started early in 2010. After exploring numerous locations, the consulting team agreed on Dindori as the perfect region for sparkling wine.
“Sparkling wine requires a few characteristics like acidity from grapes which is already available in Dindori,” says Khairnar. “Dindori’s reddish soil is another reason why it is the perfect location. It has a partial water holding capacity and partial nutrient capacity which is perfect for grapevines.”
Moving from the photo wall, Khairnar took us to another side of the room where two sliding doors revealed the factory section of the winery behind a sturdy glass wall.
From vine to sparkling wine
Kaushal Khairnar led us from the gallery room to the processing room, where the grapes are turned into sparkling wine. Along the way, we got to witness a small representation of Chandon’s grapevine growing process.
As told to us, Chandon uses multiple grape varieties from different regions which helps give the sparkling wine its unique flavour palette. Chandon India produces two different sparkling wines called Brut and Rosé. Talking about the varieties used in each, Khairnar mentioned that the Brut uses three different grape varieties, that is 70% of Chenin Blanc, 15% of Pinot Noir and 15% of Chardonnay. Rosé on the other hand is 100 % Shiraz.
“Shiraz is quite resistant to the climatic conditions in India and also adds a nice flavour of red berries, with an added complexity,” says Khairnar.
At Chandon, the grapes are harvested in the months of January, February and March. The winery receives samples of grape bunches which are tested for pH and acidity levels and the sensory base of the berries. Once approved and delivered, the grapes are transferred to a room where they are processed in cold temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius to conserve their freshness, acidity and grape characteristics. The next day, the grapes are crushed in whole bunches using a pneumatic press which ensures that the grapes are crushed in the most gentle manner to avoid the presence of excessive phenolic compounds which may disturb the base wine.
“The cold storage process and the whole bunch processing, which is the Chandon way of working, is entirely unique to Chandon,” Amrut Vare adds.
The next step is juice clarification, which is one of the most important steps. A tray under the pneumatic press collects the juice from the grapes which is then transferred to the tanks through a hose and pump. The tank room has multiple tanks of different volumes right from 500 litres to 51,000 litres, which allows for different varieties of juice to be processed. A cold temperature of 10 degrees Celsius inside the tank allows the juice to separate, accumulating any haze at the bottom, and leaving behind clean juice at the top.
From here, a process called tirage takes place in the Production Hall, where the juice is mixed with sugar, yeast and adjuvant and homogenised in the tank and filled into the bottles. A crown cap is added to the bottles and bubbles are generated to start the second process of fermentation.
For the first 45-60 days, the yeast inside the bottles consume the sugar and produces CO2 which is trapped inside the bottle. The room where the bottles are stored is kept at a low 14 degrees Celsius temperature to maintain consistency in the bubbles. After 45-60 days, the yeast automatically dies releasing a total of 6 bars of CO2.
Once the ageing is finished, the bottles are transferred into a ridding bin where the bottles are inverted to bring the yeast down to the neck of the bottle. The adjuvant in the mixture creates an isolated layer between the wine and yeast. Once the yeast is removed, the bottles are put upright and packaged.
A memorable evening
The thoroughly educational tour was followed by a very special pairing session, where Amrut Vare taught us about different food pairings, from sweet and salty offerings. Each of us was served a platter of food which included a few varieties of cheese, crackers, jams, apple slices, dried fruits like apricot and prunes, olives, cucumber, and macarons. Each of these foods was individually paired with the Brut and Rosé, as per Vare’s suggestions playing with the different flavour palates that complemented the aromas of the sparkling wines. Some of my favourite pairings included the cheese and Brut, the macaron and Rosé, and the dried fruits and the Rosé.
The evening was wrapped up with a soiree of finger foods and delicious sparkling wine cocktails curated by the special in-house bartenders.