The Dodda Alada Mara (big banyan tree) is the largest one in Karnataka and the fourth-largest in India. Spread across 3 acres, the tree is more than 400 years old and has a circumference of more than 250 metres. The Big Banyan Winery is named after this landmark in its vicinity, 30 km from Bengaluru.
The day we visit the weather is balmy, and the landscaped lawns and gardens of the 28-acre farmhouse, converted into a winery-cum-resort, are enveloped in lush greenery.
Low profile compared to the big names that have captured major chunks of the burgeoning Indian market, Big Banyan Winery is increasingly becoming spoken about among wine connoisseurs for its exclusive bouquet of bespoke, high-quality wines that has created a niche for itself, and even a buzz overseas.
Set up over a decade ago by the Chairman of John Distilleries, Mr. Paul John, the winery was a dream project envisaged to produce world-class wines. In pursuit of his dream, Paul roped in the services of Lucio Matricardi, a well-known and respected Italian winemaker.
An audio-visual presentation attempts to capture the ‘poetry’ in a wine bottle, with land (the alchemy of nature), lore (roots of its history) and love (passion for wine-making as the underlying theme.
Labour of love
Lucio Matricardi started his labour of love from scratch, hand-picking a crew of farmers and training them in the subtle nuances of viticulture. Bengaluru has always been known for its grapes – the red clay and the mildly nippy weather, with bursts of sunshine, make the areas surrounding the city the perfect place for some grape varietals to thrive.
Today, the vineyard covers an area of 2.5 acres planted with well-known varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Viognier. Other grape varietals are sourced from select vineyards of northern Karnataka and from Nashik, Baramati and Sangli in Maharashtra. The terroir of these vineyards gives the grapes their unique and distinct characteristics, which is brilliantly reflected in the remarkable expressions produced.
The company has a total of 200 acres of vineyards that produce grape in strict, controlled conditions to meet the exacting standards required and to ensure the integrity of the wines.
The winery (L) is surrounded by vineyards, which also grow the celebrated Viognier grapes (R).
To ensure preservation of the original wine bouquet, character and colour is of prime importance in wine-making. The winery is equipped with sophisticated equipment to handle the process – from crushing, to pressing, fermentation, clarification and ageing – and definitely deserves the epithet ‘state-of-the-art’!
All the machinery is imported from either Italy or France, and the winery currently has a production capacity of 66,000 cases per annum. Combi tanks occupy approximately 50% of the capacity and make for best utilisation of space.
Processing equipment includes the sorting line, de-stemers and a series of four pneumatic presses. All of the machinery has been installed taking into account the capacity of the plot or batch. They are selectively used based on lot size and requirement and allows for operational flexibility.
A cross-flow filtration system filters the wine from 100 NTU (nephelo-metric turbidity units) to the final output of 0.5 NTU, which indicates that the wine going for bottling is clean and sterile. The bottling machine is semi-automatic with a production speed of 1,500 bottles per hour, with screw capping and corking options.
Tight and meticulous quality control tests and checks, continuously carried out on all ingredients and products that go into the production line, are the secret of the brand’s reputation for consistent quality. A modern, well-equipped laboratory is a testament to this.
With his years of wisdom and passion for wines, the virtuoso vintner Lucio has worked his magic to create a distinct collection of fine Indian wines at Big Banyan. Over the years, an array of stunning red and white wines have earned much praise from wine aficionados and won many prestigious accolades.
The last batch of awards won were the ‘Indian Wine Consumer’s Choice Awards’ (2020) where Bellissima 2018 was awarded Gold. The Big Banyan Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Big Banyan Limited Shiraz 2016 and Big banyan Rosa 2018 bagged the Silver, along with Big banyan Chardonnay 2018, Big Banyan Merlot 2018.
The Jewel in the crown currently is the Big Banyan Viognier, a unique small-batch, single-vineyard white wine (see box).
“The most important reason why Viognier has become a hot variety in the last 10 years is for the incredible unicity of its aromas. It is a rainbow of notes,” says Lucio.
He is proud to be able to establish Viognier in Bengaluru, especially because it is not the easiest of grapes to grow. Being an early-budding, mid-ripening varietal, it is very vulnerable to disease. The weather in the area of cultivation is also very crucial for the vine.
Tours & tastings
India’s wine market is estimated at US$ 150 million, where imported wine accounts for 30% and the rest is domestic. The wine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25%.
Taking cognizance of this, the company has built a modern tasting room where budding wine geeks are introduced to the various nuances of wines and can try four to six wines and platters of cheese and crackers.
The collection includes three red wines (Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon), four white wines (Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier), a rosé wine (Rosa Rossa), a dessert wine (Bellissima), a Limited Spring Reserve Shiraz and also blended wines (L’Angoor and Ampersand).
To make the overall experience pleasant, a large gazebo-shaped restaurant called The Ranch is located on the premises. It has proved to be extremely popular and is crowded, especially over the weekends.
Big Banyan wines are currently available in Karnataka, Goa, Kerala, Pondicherry, Telangana and Maharashtra. Grounds are being prepared to navigate the complicated excise rules in various states for further expansion. This is one winery whose time has come!
The Big Banyan Viognier is a unique small-batch, single-vineyard white wine in the company’s collection. The grapes have been harvested from the vineyards outside Bengaluru.
Viognier being an “aromatic grape” surprises its consumers with its ripe fruity flavours of peach, apricot, melon and nectarine, as well as its strong and characteristic floral aroma of Mediterranean flowers like chamomile, hawthorn and narcissus.
With a golden yellow hue and floral, fruity notes, Big Banyan Viognier offers a rich and rounded palate of tropical peaches and apricots, with a rare hint of cloves.
The limited 200 cases of Viognier are exclusively available at the Big Banyan Vineyards and Winery only. The wine (12.5% ABV) is priced at Rs.800 a bottle, and is recommended served at 10-12 degrees Centigrade.