Chatting up Kerry Damskey, Sula’s master winemaker, who talks about flavours of wine, pairing food with wine and the need to educate people about it
“It’s the winemaker’s job to articulate a definable style for a wine but you don’t create an identity — that comes from the grapes, and the grapes’ identity is directly linked to where and how they are grown.”
— Kerry Damskey
Not just wine making, but even enjoying it and being a wine connoisseur is simply an art. And once you know this art, you will fall in love with both wine and the science and art of wine making. Kerry Damskey, the master winemaker at Sula Vineyards, has taken winemaking in India to new heights as he transformed Nashik, an area known for its history of growing table grapes, to a place that is today best known for its weather, most conducive for growing wine grapes. With close to four decades of wine and wine business experience, he is recognised for his acuity and focus in creating brilliant wines. Says, Damskey, “Pune is a cool and young place and a lot of things keep happening here. There are several universities and colleges and the young crowd makes it upbeat and a good place to promote wine.”
Renowned as Wandering Winemaker and also widely referred to as the Indiana Jones of Winemaking, Damskey, who hails from California, was in the city last week. We caught up with him. Excerpts:
You have often said that grapes play a great role in making a good wine. Is it true?
In wine making, smaller the berries, the more concentrated is the flavour. When I taste a grape wine, I love to say that it is all about wine making but is not. I would say great grapes make great wine. The goodness of a wine depends 80 per cent on the quality of grapes and only 20 per cent on wine making. So it is all about working with the growers, partaking in the process of growing, tasting good grapes because if you get to know that the grapes are good, wine becomes more recipe driven. I have been a scientist too and I look at wine making from a very scientific way and that allows to me to stand back and do things at a more artisan level. I feel wine making is always about ‘less is more.’
Are Indians ready to try wine?
Besides making wine, a winemaker in India must also educate people about it. Wine is different from spirits and beer. So, if we are going to increase wine availability in India, creating an awareness about it is equally important. Majority of the people I meet here haven’t tasted wine but they are gradually developing a taste for it. That said, Indians are getting experimental — I can see this whole foodie movement happening in India. In the coming years, if you are eating an indigenous Indian food — pure, local and authentic Indian cuisine, Indians will enjoy their food with a glass of wine.
How to make wine reach out to a wider audience?
I think wine needs to be demystified. It is the responsibility of the individual to have the willingness to try it, taste it and see if they like it. You don’t have to be taught what is good or bad — what flavours you taste, smell can help you decide. When I say, ‘I saw a black berry in the wine or smelt fennel’ — these descriptive terms are helpful for people to understand what they are smelling or going to taste. I would urge youngsters to get more experimental and try wine, judge it for themselves and develop a liking for it.
What makes a wine perfect?
There are variations in terms of quality but all wines are good. If it is a white wine, it has to have a nice light colour and also be light in taste. A red wine must have a good density of colour (except for a few varieties which do not have a colour). When you smell it, it should be intense but not ‘jump out of the glass’ and surprise you when you sip it. So a wine shouldn’t be surprising, it should be a pleasant experience and should be moderately intense but not overwhelming.
How to pair a wine with a particular food? What is your favourite cuisine when it comes to pairing wine?
The obvious pairs are with fish and chicken, and you can go for white wine. For vegetarian dishes which have some spice and texture, red goes the best. However, highly flavoured, spiced and really hot food doesn’t always go well with wine. That said, more than pairing wine with a food, it is much more important to find the wine that you like and enjoy. If you find a wine which has a nice colour, flavour, texture and taste, I think you can pair it with anything you want as it depends a lot on the individual taste.