Historic Thirst

The ancient roots of India’s wine trade

01 October 2014
Amphora shards have been found all along India’s western coast.
courtesy National Institute Of Oceanography
Amphora shards have been found all along India’s western coast.
courtesy National Institute Of Oceanography

THE WINE COMPANY, a sleek new bistro in Gurgaon, prides itself on its immense wine collection. On a Thursday afternoon in August, a few couples sat enjoying Italian food, many sipping from large wine glasses. Shelves displayed wine from all over the world, grouped by region, for customers to pick from. At a picnic table in the middle of the dining floor, I spoke with Kriti Malhotra, the establishment’s sommelier.

Malhotra, in her late twenties, is a graduate of WSET UK, a wine school. “Wine is right now in fashion,” she told me. “People want to learn about it.” Indian viticulture, centered in Maharashtra and Karnataka, is booming. By 2017, the Economic Times estimates, Indians will consume 2.1 million cases of wine per year, up from 1.21 million in 2013. Wine imports are also growing, and account for roughly a quarter of the country’s consumption. “Prosecco”—a dry, sparkling Italian wine—“is doing awesome,” Malhotra said.

The current boom in wine imports, largely a product of India’s economic liberalisation since the early 1990s, might be unprecedented in scale, but is not without precedent historically. The British were fond of wine and brought in a steady supply, as did the Mughals before them. But few know that India was already importing wine two thousand years ago, with a peak in the trade in the first and second centuries CE, when much of the region was controlled by the Kushan Empire, the Satavahana dynasty and the Sangam kingdoms.

Vikram Kumar Vikram Kumar is an intern at The Caravan.

Keywords: India's wine trade The Wine Company viticulture ancient roots amphora shards
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