The summer sun is harsh, and in the middle of the Maharashtrian countryside, is a different beast altogether. The tarmac glistens in the distance, a jet-black streak cutting across the crimson face of the earth. Here in Nashik’s grape country, it seems as if the colour of wine has seeped into the earth, or vice versa. We turn off the main road, all of a sudden, making our way towards a small hill. At its base is one of only six Chandon maison (house) in the world. As I step through the gates, it’s quite evident that there’s a distinct difference from the vineyard experience quite typical of India’s wine capital.
“Welcome to Chandon,” we’re greeted by a bespectacled, beaming gentleman—Kaushal Khairnar, Chandon India’s chief winemaker. Kaushal is going to be our escort for the day, and after a round of introductions, as he launches straight into a deep dive on the winemaking process at Chandon.
“The brand might be renowned across the world and our quality standards uniform at all the maison but sustainability is also at the core of our philosophy and vision. One hundred per cent of the grapes that Chandon sparkling wines are made from, are sourced from local farmers.” During the sorting of the fruit, an important thing to check for is how mature it is, adds Kaushal. “There is such a thing as a point of no return. A grape horizon if you will,” he snickers at his own joke.
After the sorting, the fruit is processed at temperatures under 15°C, a factor that is a differentiator for Chandon wines. After that, when extracting the juice from the fruit, in a process that is called bunch pressing, caution ought to be exercised to ensure too much pressure isn’t applied, so as to keep the extract from turning bitter. After that, it’s time for a trademark secret process carried out in massive vats which conjure up images of cartoon villains meeting a grisly albeit comical end. “All I can tell you is that it involves ion exchange and imparts the kind of quality we require from the produce,” says Kaushal, sounding almost conspiratorial.
The wine cellar, at the end of the processing floors is constantly at 14°C across the year, crucial to keeping the yield at optimum temperatures.
After the tour is done, an elaborate multi-course meal awaits, paired carefully to highlight the various notes of the wines. Kaushal walks us through the tasting, elaborating on the various elements that work together to help a flavour or fragrance emerge.
As much as I appreciate the process, the tasting and the passion of the creators, what is most impressive is the brand’s commitment to ensuring it’s not just the consumers who are delighted but even the local community and the planet benefit. Around 30 per cent of the power used at the maison is currently drawn from renewable sources, with a target of achieving 100 per cent sustainable energy by 2026.
As conversation flows as merrily as the wine, I stumble upon a rather alarming and yet not entirely surprising discovery. Climate change, like it does everything else, has started to affect winemaking as well. “Climate change is not as much of an issue yet, but it is looming rather large on the horizon and those clouds look quite threatening. What we are noticing right now is late-season rainfall which is affecting the crop. But this issue has the potential to snowball into a rather serious crisis.”
Whatever the future might hold, for now, Chandon is looking at a promising future. When you are in Nashik the next time and looking for an in-depth understanding of the winemaking process or a winery tour, consider Chandon. It might not have hordes of Instagram-friendly flower and balloon arrangements, selfie booths or busloads of tourists but what it does offer instead is an experience that is centred around nothing but the passion for sparkling wine.
Also Read | The First-Timer’s Guide to Nashik and Aurangabad
Samarpan Bhowmik is Deputy Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Ever on the lookout for novel experiences, he believes the best way to travel is to do it slow. He hopes to hitchhike the length of South America one day.