| The facade of the Chateau Indage winery in Narayangaon
If you were a remuer, it would mean that you were a highly skilled French workman whose sole job in life was to increase, by a tiny degree, every three-four days, the angle of the tilt in bottles of sparkling wine, so that the sediment formed moved ever so gradually into the neck of each bottle. At the end of the process (called riddling or rumauge in French), the bottles would be vertical, necks down, with all the impurities like a plug in the necks. The slower the process of completing the tilting, the better it is for the clarity and quality of the sparkling wine, and it has been known for riddling of a given batch of champagne bottles to take up to three years! And the best remuers can handle up to 30,000 bottles per day!
Today, most winemakers, particularly outside France, use machines to perform the riddling and the process has become easier and larger volumes can be handled at a time. After riddling, one more procedure, called disgorgement, consists of freezing the bottle necks and their sediment content in a prime solution before expelling the plugs using the pressure of the carbon dioxide trapped in the bottles, and then the final corking is done.
All this and more I try to take in as I follow Vikram Singh, fast talker and fast walker, up and down steep metal ladders, across metal ramps and parapets overlooking enormous, 22,000-litre capacity steel vessels into which crushed and pressed grapes are pumped up. I follow him taking notes as best I can as Vikram rattles on about first and second fermentations, the part played by glucose and yeast, the therapeutic uses of discarded grape pulp, the difference between the making of sparkling and still wines, and many other nuances of winemaking.
He takes us to a bottling plant, where labelling and packaging is all mechanised and into the hallowed precincts of the wine-tasting room; he is passionate about his subject: “Don’t forget that there is a living being inside these bottles.” We — Vikram, friend Rupinder Singh and myself — then go on a walking tour of the vineyard themselves, where the grapes are grown. We are at Narayangaon in Maharashtra, at the headquarters of the Chateau Indage Limited Estate Vineyards and we take pictures of the clusters of grapes — still small and round which will be ready for harvest in another month. We trudge across the rough terrain which smells of fresh earth and turf and in trying to negotiate a gravelly slope I fall flat on my backside and fortunately Rupi is too concerned to take a picture.
Then to the “rural wine bar” and restaurant of which Vikram is manager for wine tasting and lunch (as reported in Tongue Twister earlier). It is one of several properties of Indage Hotels Pvt Ltd and this is another interesting aspect of the Indage story. Years ago, when they were struggling to make a mark on the domestic market because wine drinking as a culture was almost non-existent in India, and when even the five-star hotels where the tourists stayed were only interested in imported brands, they said: “Right. We’ll open our own restaurants.”
The result — urban and rural wine bars, some of them like snacketerias and some with full-scale menus, but affordable and accessible, and also upmarket places for the well-heeled and the who’s who.
Two of these places in Mumbai I visited the previous evening. They are side by side and share a common kitchen, and menu. One is a classy Japanese restaurant called Tetsuma and the other is a members only private club called Prive, a stone’s throw from the Gateway of India. Tetsuma was crowded so we chilled out at Prive, which only gets busy around midnight.
My host, Satish Shewale of the Indage Group, suggested that we go for seafood, Japanese style, the only exception being a tender and succulent lamb chop marinated, I think, in wine and honey. So there was Rock Shrimp coated in a corn batter and deep fried, a selection of sushi items — raw fish (Norwegian salmon, tuna, shrimp and white halibut) packaged in typically sushi style in sea-weed and sticky rice and served with Japanese soya sauce and the Wasabi paste made of horse radish which, when blended with the soya makes the perfect dip for sushi and sends a zing up your nose like only the best English mustard can do.
There was also Chicken Sea Bass in Miso Sauce which is one of the most subtle and delicate seafood dishes I have tasted, and another dish of Black Cod. Washed down, of course, with Chateau Indage wines — the sparkling Ivy, Brut and then the still white Chantilli Sauvignon Blanc.
Its is a strategy that has worked, as the facts and figures of the domestic market show. From sugarcane farmers in Narayangaon to Page 3 regulars in Mumbai — they are all drinking Chateau Indage wines, thanks to the vision of Shamrao Chougule and his sons Ranjit and Vikrant.
Back home, a fortnight later, by a charming coincidence, I was invited to a party where the wines were Chateau Indage — their Chantilli White, the red Chantilli, Cabernet Sauvignon and Ivy, White Zinfandel — a rosé.
The food was from the kitchen of The Blue Potato, sure to be a hot destination in Calcutta. There was a salad of lobster, baby potatoes, green beans and mint with a vanilla bean dressing, Tuscan Bean Soup and Grilled Fillet of Sea Bass with ginger, mashed potatoes and vegetable tagliatalle. Excellent.