A feisty woman and a fastidious winemaker in the same heady package, Karishma Grover has changed the flavour and raised the bar at Grover Zampa wines.
The third generation in a family of winemakers, Karishma Grover was 16 when she decided to master the art herself. She headed to California’s Napa Valley, where she studied viticulture at University of California at Davis, picking up the nuances of wine production from the experts. Her family’s firm Grover Vineyards, which is India’s oldest winery, appeared to be an “exciting business” and the young girl couldn’t wait to get her hands dirty. “It’s a passion for my grandfather, father and for me,” she says with youthful enthusiasm that hasn’t dimmed even after eight years in the business. And they have been eventful. The company has bagged 74 Indian and international wine awards in the past three years alone, and much of the credit goes to this woman on top.
“There has been a measurable change in the quality of our wines in the past few years,” Grover affirms. The winery has standardized processes ever since she has come on board, bringing with her the experience and knowledge she gained in the US. With two vineyards, one in Nandi Hills near Bangalore and the other in Nashik, her father Kapil Grover has mostly left the business operations to the company’s CEO Sumedh Singh Mandla, while Karishma handles the wine production and creation.
“This year, Grover Zampa released India’s most expensive wine ever,” she says in her down-to-earth way. The super premium Shiraz-based wine, priced at Rs 5,000 per magnum, went on sale around Diwali to a select group of 200 connoisseurs by invitation. Another 100 bottles have been committed to overseas markets. “This was not a commercial venture, it was a ‘passion’ wine. We wanted to see how far we could go with it,” says Grover, adding that the response to their wines over the past few years has been “amazing”. Two lakh cases of Grover Zampa wines were shipped to 22 countries last year, and demand is growing in healthy double digits as their quality gets better and better. A new range of sparkling wine is on the cards too.
A woman of the earth, Grover spends much of her time in the vineyards amongst the plants and farmhands, supervising close to 70 workers across the two properties. “It’s not difficult to train Indian workers about grape quality and wine production, even though it’s a new industry in India,” she asserts, adding that winemaking goes back only about four decades even in California. “My teachers had seen the Napa Valley wine industry in its nascent stages. We are at the same stage in India today, so their training is very useful for us,” the 32-year-old points out. All the wine consultants they have on board now are French and, eight years on, her workers are able to match her ardour for international quality.
Since father and daughter handle different aspects of the business, Grover has never had to worry about overlapping responsibilities and generational conflicts with him. “He defers to me in my department, I defer to him in his,” she says matter-of-factly. Having different skill sets also means they are very open to listening to each other’s point of view. “Working with him in Grover Zampa has opened my eyes about the reality of India,” she admits. “Even though we work just an hour’s drive away from the big city, it’s a completely different world in the rural interior.”
Profit is too small a goal; the young woman has also inherited her father’s ambition: “We are very clear: we want to be the first name that comes to mind when you think of quality Indian wine.” With all the awards coming their way, it’s already time for a toast.