`Go green to have great wine`

Grape skins, seeds, and stems that remain after the crush -- can constitute up to 30-40% of the original harvest yield.

Nashik: A series of environmental best practices adopted by Sula Vineyards, one of India`s largest wine producers, has enabled it do away with diesel gensets for generating power, meet 60-70 percent of its water requirement from water harvesting and 40 percent of its fertiliser needs through vermiculture.

"At Sula, we`re not just focused on making great wine, we`re focused on making great wine well. And since great wine starts with the environment, it`s in our best interests to take good care of it in the long run," Sula Vineyards CEO Rajeev Samant said.

"Our sustainable agricultural practices and efficient winery operations are environmentally friendly, economically sound, socially responsible, and mindful of the earth`s limited resources. We are continuously working to improve our own sustainability and that of our growers, through experimentation and experience sharing," he added.

To move away from coal- and diesel-based power, the winery has installed enough solar water heaters to heat 5,000 litres of water a day to 70°C.

"This is enough for almost all of our hot water requirements. For a few requirements, such as bottle cleaning, where we need water at a higher temperature, we will soon be installing a wood-fired boiler, fuelled entirely by woody vine clippings from the vineyard," Samant said.

Speaking about the winery`s three-phase watershed management project that aims to harvest rainwater and excess irrigation runoff, Samant said the storage capacity of its two reservoirs is now at over 30 million litres -- 14 million litres collected annually from rainwater and 19 million liters via check dams.

"We are now meeting 60-70 percent of the winery`s annual water needs through water harvesting," he added.

Noting that pomace -- grape skins, seeds, and stems that remain after the crush -- can constitute up to 30-40 percent of the original harvest yield, Samant said instead of being thrown away, it is used for vermiculture.

"These workaholic wrigglers are an environmentally conscious farmer`s best friends. They chew their way through the mix to produce a crumbly black compost that is odourless and rich in organic matter, which we then use back on the vines as fertilizer.

At present, our homemade organic compost meets 40% of our fertilization needs. Over time, our aim is to replace all chemical fertilizers," Samant said.

This apart, the winery has a bottle collection programme that sees 800,000 bottles reused each year.

"This not only meets 25 percent of our bottling requirements, but it has also created jobs for 30 local women as bottle washers, who clean 3,000 bottles per day between them," Samant said.

Samant established Sula Vineyards in 1999. Today, it is spread over 1,700 acres -- 300 acres owned by his and his friends and the balance by some 250 small farmers.

The company sold five million bottles last year and hopes to cross the six-and-a-half-million mark this year.

"We are benefiting from a demographic dividend," Samant explained of the growing sales.

"Not only are more and more people per se moving away from hard liquor to wine, but increasing numbers of women, particularly in the metros are quite comfortable with a glass of wine," he added.

Over the years Sula has pioneered many classic grape varietals in India like Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc in 2000, Zinfandel in 2001 and Riesling in 2008. In 2005, Sula launched its first reserve wine, the Dindori Reserve Shiraz, as well as India`s first dessert wine, the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc.

The company is also a leading wine importer under the umbrella of Sula Selections, with a portfolio of prestigious brands from leading producers like Remy Cointreau, Constellation Wines and Chianti Ruffino.