In most Sindhi families, Kailash Gurnani likes to say, alcohol is a way of life. There is, for instance, a picture of him as an eight-month-old, posing with a bottle of beer.
He still frequently poses with bottles, only now they’re filled with wine that he has made.
The 23-year-old took over his family’s York Winery two months ago, making him probably the youngest winemaker in the country.
And he won’t just be making wine for York and its vendors — smaller Indian wine brands such as Good Earth, Turning Point and Mandala Valley.
His York winery is also hosting French champagne giants Moët & Chandon, who plan to enter the Indian wine market in the first half of 2013.
While they will eventually set up their own facility, they are basing their operations out of the York Winery for the first two years.
For Gurnani, it all began when he was in Class 12, aged 17. His family sat him down and explained that his father, a businessman who imported and exported construction materials, had bought some land in Nashik’s wine country, not far from the Sula vineyards.
With the wine industry taking off, the plan was to start a family winery, and the family wanted Gurnani to pursue a degree in oenology, the science and study of winemaking, and eventually take it over.
A year later, the teenager was on his way to Australia to learn the art of winemaking at University of Adelaide. He completed the four-year degree course in 2010, including an internship at Australia’s renowned Hardys winery, and spent the next year touring Australia, working at a Moët & Chandon winery, then at the vineyard of a friend. Meanwhile, in Nashik, the family business had launched operations in early 2008, with Gurnani’s brother and brother-in-law and a South African wine consultant at the helm. Today, York is one of India’s most renowned wineries and it has produced four vintages or annual harvests, with the first one yielding the York Reserve Shiraz 2008 and the York Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which won gold and bronze respectively at the 2009 Sommelier India Wine Competition. The Cabernet also earned a commendation at the prestigious London International Wine Fair in 2010, the first Indian wine to do so.
“York has a very small market share, but that in no way reflects on the quality of their wine,” says Myles Mayall, wine educator and buyer for Wine Society of India. “They make some fantastic wine, and while they did have some distribution issues at first, that too seems like it has been sorted out.” In October, Gurnani returned to India and spent three months touring Maharashtra’s wineries and vineyards before finally taking over winemaking at York in January.
Now, he will go up against giants such as Sula, which currently dominates the market, and smaller wineries like Fratelli, which have imported expertise from renowned wine regions such as Tuscany.
Kailash says that he doesn’t like to think about what his competitors are doing. “It adds unnecessary pressure,” he says. “All I can do is apply what I know. Besides, whenever I do get stuck, I have the option of calling friends running wineries around the world for help.”
For now, the biggest tasks at hand are the annual production of one lakh-odd litres of wine, and making sure all is well with York’s European guests.