A Couple of hours from fabulous Hampi lies another fascinating site: The KRSMA Winery. Ranjan Pal raises a toast to its award-winning wines.
Once the seat of the greatest of South Indian civilisations, the ruined city of Hampi is a fascinating place to visit. Four dynasties of the Vijayanagara Empire ruled a vast kingdom over a period of more than two centuries (1336–1565 AD). And wine was very much part of everyday life. The Ramayana tells the story of how King Sugriva’s private vineyard on the outskirts of Hampi was plundered by a marauding band of vanaras who were celebrating Hanuman’s successful search for Sita.
Driving two hours to the north of Hampi, us modern-day visitors were rather more welcome as we wound our way slowly up the small hill where the KRSMA winery is located. Named for a union of the first names of the founders Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati (Krs-Ma), the story of how this winery came into being is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.
The young Krishna first tasted wine as a schoolboy through the local bishop who had imported some from the Vatican. Hooked at first sip, he then began to experiment by producing them in his backyard. Then the business of real life took over and he spent the next two decades building up a very successful granules business before returning to his passion in 2007 with his wife. The opportunity came in the form of the distress sale of a parcel of land that was under wine cultivation by a local farmer’s cooperative at that time.
While the limestone, mineral-rich soil and dry weather with minimal rainfall were ideal for grape cultivation, other challenges of the terroir were daunting. Water had to be pumped from three kilometres away, the rocky nature of the ground meant no topsoil and trained manpower was scarce in this remote outpost. Little by little, through sheer grit and determination, Krishna and Uma overcame these obstacles and the proof of their blood, sweat and tears now stands in a wine that has won accolades on the world stage. A remarkable achievement given that they have been around less than a decade.
We are given a quick tour of the fermentation tanks and laboratory and the barrel cellar before settling down for a vertical tasting of the Sauvignon Blanc (2013, 2015 and 2016 vintages). The first thing that one notices is the distinctive logo which speaks of refinement and sophistication, referencing the Vijayanagara Empire itself. As far as the wine itself went, I liked in particular the most recent vintage, which was a pale lemon hue, had an excellent balance and structure, with a neat acidity which made its presence felt without being overwhelming, and a medium-long finish.
After the tasting we are taken down to the vineyards, which cover a total of 160 acres and of which 50 are being harvested while 50 are under plantation. The greenery is a refreshing contrast to the arid landscape all around, making it a veritable oasis in the Hampi Hills. The couple is proud of having raised the water table with their irrigation efforts and thereby sparking a resurgence of cash crop cultivation in the area.
Pre-monsoon showers have begun in the region and we look up at the lowering sky. The Cabernet Sauvignon tasting awaits us and, with the breeze picking up, we decide to move to the small lawn outside the stone winery building. But the wind is too strong, shattering a couple of wine glasses. Sprawling indolently on the grass with a glass in hand seems a much better idea! We taste the 2012, 2014 and 2015 vintages and it is immediately clear that the first is KRSMA’s pride and joy with the unique minerality of the soil coming straight through the wine. Made in the classic New World style, it is redolent of dark fruit, and the tannins have softened sufficiently to create an excellent balance.
It has been a wonderful end to the day and we linger over the wine, as storm clouds scud across the sky. We are reluctant to break the spell by leaving, but leave we must. Luckily, the wonderful wines from this estate are available freely at good liquor stores in Bengaluru. Next stop.