" I like to sell what I like to drink," says Krishna Prasad Chigurupati. He is tracing the evolution of KRSMA Estates, the newest entrant that is making waves in the Indian wine market. A pharmaceutical business with a presence in 60 countries; a wine-loving couple who travel the world, indulging their interest in fine wine, tasting their way across the world; an interest that grew into a passion, leading to the investment in a 170 acre boutique winery close to the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, at the World Heritage site of Hampi – and the resulting wines, some of the most elegant that have been produced in India to date. This, in brief, is the story of KRSMA wines to date that Krishna Prasad narrates, his casual tone barely concealing the single minded determination, focus, and intense involvement that went into the creation of the brand.
Just a week earlier, at the KRSMA launch at the JW Marriott, Bengaluru, we had tasted the wines, many of them already carrying precocious tags of international recognition: the 2013 Chardonnay had earned a double Gold at the China Wine and Spirits Awards, 2013; the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was another award winner, a Bronze at the New Zealand International Wine Show, 2012; and the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, a Silver at the China Wine and Spirits Awards. These wines held their own, paired, unconventionally, with a selection of cuisines that ranged from European to South-East Asian and Indian on a single menu, curated by Magandeep Singh, who also moderated the tutored tasting earlier in the day. KRSMA wines are all single varietals, and Krishna Prasad intends to keep it that way, at least for the present. The Chigurupatis chose the previously unexplored terroir of the iron-rich, schist type soil of the Hampi hills, with its dry, hot climate and a minimum of rainfall and cool nights, to pursue their dream of " producing a wine that is distinctly Indian yet can be counted among some of the very best in the world."
We are at the Chigurupatis' Hyderabad home, well into a discussion on KRSMA wines, when Uma enters, radiant in a shocking Indian pink sari. She is all energy and charm, apologizing for the family celebration that had delayed her. She puts together a platter of cheese and grapes to go with the KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc that we have been sipping, and takes up the thread of the story.
"Unless something excites me, I don't get into it," says Uma, her effervescence a direct contrast to her husband's more measured, detached demeanour. With a background in microbiology, she found that viticulture inspired her enough to plunge into winemaking, headfirst, involving herself in every part of the process. The first lesson she learned in winemaking, she says, was patience. Every action, like harvesting, for instance, can only be performed once a year. On your judgment hangs the outcome of an entire year's effort – after that, you have to wait for the next cycle. Uma recalls some of the highlights of setting up KRSMA. A prominent consultant the Chigurupatis approached predicted that the varietal they were considering planting would produce wine that would be 'very light, with no colour, and no body'. They went ahead with their decision all the same, and the judgment was turned on its head when the grapes produced ample amounts of all the desired characteristics.
Krishna Prasad and Uma involve themselves in the winemaking process at every level, working alongside their viticulturist and winemaker, both from New Zealand, and their consultant viticulturist, Peter Hayes, from Australia, reserving the critical decisions for themselves. From pruning and harvesting, to the selection of barrels, the Australian-designed labels, the French bottles, Spanish capsules and Portuguese corks, everything bears the stamp of the Chigurupatis' pursuit of excellence. This is a couple that work so closely as a team, that even the name of their winery, KRSMA, is a fusion of Krishna and Uma.
This yin-yang couple power spills over into other areas of their life – the Chigurupatis run marathons together. They have run in Antarctica, the North Pole, the Australian Outback, the wine lovers Marathon du Médoc and, most recently, the Atacama Desert. "We run at our individual pace", says Uma, but if I'm in trouble, Krishna drops back to run beside me. The North Pole marathon was a difficult one, with very poor visibility, and such extreme conditions, that he ran ahead, and I just followed him." Sometimes, though, the rhythm breaks down. At the Tokyo marathon, Uma recalls, Krishna was running a temperature of 103. Anxious when she could not spot him, she stopped and waited, searching for him, only to discover that he had finished the race 45 minutes earlier!
Krishna Prasad and Uma have conceived KRSMA wines as super-premium, small productions. Krishna is unapologetic about the prices – their beautifully balanced, aromatic, fruit-forward Chardonnay sells for Rs.1000, while their flagship, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, with its depths of plum, red fruit and a satisfyingly long finish is priced at Rs.1500. KRSMA, incidentally, have the first magnums of still wines in India. This hint of luxury is also reflected in their labels, inspired by the fabled kingdom of Vijayanagara. Krishna Prasad Chigurupati displays patience, a willingness to wait and watch the KRSMA strategy unfold, all of which makes these wines worth watching, and certainly, drinking. He wants "the grapes to tell their story", a story, he believes, will put India on the wine map of the world.
Making a Statement:Luxury Wines from KRSMA Estates appeared in UpperCrust magazine, April-June 2014.
Image Credits: Courtesy Krishna Prasad Chigurupati