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HomeStateDraftIn Karnataka’s wine-making ‘California belt’, fears of grapes turning sour

In Karnataka’s wine-making ‘California belt’, fears of grapes turning sour

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Winegrowers say the weather, at 4-5 degree Celsius, may have sucked out the sweetness of the grapes, making then unfit for wine production.

Bengaluru: Grape cultivation across the northern stretch of Karnataka covering the districts of Bagalkot, Vijayapura and Belagavi, better known as the region’s “California belt”, is in a state of crisis.

Winegrowers in the region are in panic as temperatures have plummeted to between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius ahead of harvesting, a far cry from the optimal temperature for good grape production, which is between 18 and 19 degrees Celsius.

The winegrowers say that the severe dip in temperatures over the last two weeks has the potential to turn the grape crop acidic.

Grapes that are used to make table wines should optimally have Brix (sugar content) between 20 and 25 per cent, but the dropping temperatures have left the grapes at a BRIX level of 5-7 per cent. This, farmers say, could mean that all the sweetness has been sucked out of the grapes.

Balaji Patil, a winegrower in Bijapur, is worried that his grapes will turn out sour. “They won’t even be worthy of being made into raisins and that will hurt us badly,” he said.

“If the situation (temperature) does not improve, then there is a chance that we will lose close to 80 per cent of our crops,” said T. Somu, managing director of the Karnataka Wine Board (KWB), told ThePrint.

Over 5,000 farmers involved in grape cultivation in the state are expected to be affected.

Somu, however, added that the crop can be salvaged before the harvesting season, usually between February and April, if the temperatures pick up.

“There are a few countries that like acidity in their wines, so it may not be completely lost,” Somu said. “Harvesting may be delayed but we are hopeful that the temperatures will rise and we will not lose our crop. But if temperatures do drop again, then the crop may be lost this year.”

Bengaluru-based celebrated wine consultant Alok Chandra believes that it is too early to make an assessment on the present crop.

“In my opinion, I think that as of now the crisis is overblown,” he said. “It may be a late harvest but we cannot predict nature and (can) only hope that it favours a good crop.”

Chandra also feels that the temperatures can have an effect on the crop if the grapes are affected by frost. “Then the harvest will be affected but we are yet to see such severe extreme weather,” he said.

Also read: Everything you want to know about monkey fever that has killed 6 people in Karnataka

Winegrowing in Karnataka

Karnataka accounts for over 30 per cent of the country’s wine production and has four major zones — Nandi Valley, Krishna Valley, Cauvery Valley and Hampi Hills — spanning over 16 districts, which are part of the wine production.

KWB officials say that nearly 9,700 hectares are under grape cultivation, producing 1.67 lakh tonnes of fruit annually. A majority of the grapes grown in the “California belt” are sent to Maharashtra for wine production.

The state exports both white and red wines but it is the white variety that is more in demand, say KWB officials. According to KWB officials, even though the majority of the crop is sent to Maharashtra, Karnataka too produces wines, with its own version of fortified and fruit variants.

Fruit wines are those that are fermented with a variety of ingredients and flavours taken from fruits, flowers and herbs, while fortified wine is distilled spirit from which Sherry, Madeira and Port Wine, among others, are made.

In the 2006-07 season, when the KWB was formed and the state began to monitor the production, fruit wines worth Rs 2,479.77 lakh were sold in the state. They have since seen a 624 per cent increase in 10 years, with their sale increasing to Rs 17,969.41 lakh in 2017-18, according to the KWB.

“The increase is attributed to the quality of wine that we produce. The demand also has increased,” Somu said, adding that Karnataka is second to Maharashtra in its production in the country.

Fortified wines, which are largely consumed locally, saw sales of nearly Rs 742.94 lakh in 2006-2007 and in the 10 years since, sales have increased by 490 per cent to Rs 4,383.35 lakh in 2017-18.

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