Peter Csizmadia-Honigh is a London based writer and wine professional, who originally hails from Hungary. He has not only a globe t rotter but has also travelled across the length and breadth of India. His recent book that’s a concise guide of Indian wines is making waves in the Indian wine industry and is considered a great step towards archiving information and serving as a comprehensive guide for the wine lover and connoisseur alike. In my recent conversation with him, he talked about his inspiration, the humbling travel experiences in India and the desire (rather need) to write this book. Read on to know this wine-maker’s passion for ‘The Wines of India’ in full detail.
Yashna: What inspired you to write a book around Indian wines?
Peter: I have been travelling to India for nine years in quest of the winter sun and warmth. After having seen many, though not all, of the ‘must-see’ tourist attractions, I suggested to my husband that we visit wineries in 2012. So, we ended up doing a five-day whirlwind trip around Bangalore, Pune and Nashik. It was a great, even if tiring way of getting an understanding of wine production in India. A few articles followed, for magazines, such as The Drinks Business in the UK, VinCE Magazine in Hungary, and Sommelier India. During the desk research and writing, it became clear that there was no book or comprehensive information on Indian wines to refer to, look up details or check out the maps. So, the idea was there to write a book, but as with many things in life, it took me a while to take the bull by the horn. On a spring day in 2014, however, as I was on the double-decker to work and checked our the usual things, i.e. news on the BBC, Facebook and Twitter; I came across Jancis Robinson OBE MW tweeting about a few days left to submit application for the Geoffrey Roberts Award. I looked up what it was and saw that the award consisted of £4,000 as a grant to a project “promoting New World wines”. I was wondering whether India was too new of a New World country, but as advised by my husband, my job was to write a good application and the panel of trustees would decide whether it was too new or not. Well, I was fortunate to be given the award and the rest is history; once you get the ignition, you just get on with it.
Yashna: What were the major challenges that you encountered during the research phase?
Peter: The book took 15 months in total. When I got to know that I was given the award, I realised I had to make changes. After nine very enjoyable and hugely successful years at the Institute of Masters of Wine in London, I decided it was time to go alone, so left my job and set up The Press Publishing Ltd. With the help of Pune-based Sujata Patil, it took 3 months to set up my itinerary and do the pre-field-trip research. The planning of the trip was fairly interesting at the start when I was trying to explain to people what I was working on and why I wanted to visit; quite often the phone was answered by someone who spoke hardly any English, lots of tuk-tuks in the background, etc. Then I spent November, December and January in India, travelling to all the wineries who were in operation from Theni in Tamil Nadu up to Titari Village near Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. I visited all the producers regardless of their size, quality or location or whether I had to travel by air, car or train. It was most humbling to experience the warm welcome and generous hospitality of all producers, who opened their doors, shared their knowledge and tasted bottle after bottle with me during these three months. I returned with Gabor Nagy, the photographer, in March this year to capture the stunning images of the book. It was a one-week trip covering Bangalore, Pune and Nashik: again a very packed itinerary. So, I guess the challenge was always to be on and in time, smoothing out hiccups and not picking up any tummy issues ;). From February to the end of September, it was all about writing, further questions to vintners to check facts and data, interviews over Skype and telephone, editing, layout and all those nitty-gritty jobs that you need to get done to be able to have a printed copy in the hand and launch it in Mumbai, London, and Hungary for a start.
Yashna: Which are some of your favourite wines from India?
Peter: This is a difficult one because wine writers are notoriously promiscuous with wine, but let me try to pick a few wines in no particular order:
– Chandon Brut is a deliciously vivacious sparking wine
– Sula’s Riesling is the best choice with garlic prawns or blackpepper-crusted Hyderabadi fish
– Seared tuna steak is excellent with Fratelli’s SETTE or KRSMA Estates’ Cabernet Sauvignon
– Grover’s La Réserve is a favourite of ours in Gordon’s Wine Bar in London, one of the only wine bars still serving sherry and port from the cask
– Charosa Vineyards’ Viognier is perfect with a feta salad
– Vallonné Vineyards’ Rosé is refreshingly crisp for a hot Saturday afternoon lounging with your book
For more of my favourites, you may check out ‘Peter’s Picks’ in my book, that’s a selection of wines I find nice and enjoyable to drink from each Indian producer.
Yashna: Tell me about an interesting thing/experience that took place while you were writing/researching for your book?
Peter: I was delighted to see the extent of experimentation with new varieties and how some producers were striving to achieve even better quality.
It was intriguing to understand that producers of sub-entry-level wines can harvest and make wine 365 days a year in order to eliminate the need for keeping large stocks.
I was surprised to see how many defunct wineries were still around with shabby business practices making a huge problem for the industry.
I was intrigued to better understand that the Government of India will be able to help the wine industry and tackle alcohol related issues only by cutting through the Gordian knot rather than just fiddling with smaller matters at state level. Decisive and progressive action must be taken in consultation with the industry.
Yashna: Tell me something about your travel experiences in India.
Peter: Travelling in India can be extremely tiring, but also very rewarding because there are so many things to discover. Quite often, you just have to go with the flow when you are almost left by the driver in the middle of nowhere or you travel in second class sleeper, or even the AirBnB accommodation’s security guard does not allow you to enter the building whilst the landlord insists I should be allowed to stay under the regulations of the housing association. So, it is always quite an adventure.
With a book on Indian wines and the travel experience of years in this diverse country, Peter sure is quite equipped when it comes to India. “The biggest learning, or re-confirmation of my belief, was that if you are humble and interested, people will generously share their insights and knowledge with you. Another learning was that you may be humble and interested, but you must also be single-mindedly focussed to remain on track and work according to your plans because there are so many distractions in life and that is especially true in India,” he says.
He has certainly raised a toast to Indian wines through his writing and hopes the book will put India on the world map of wine, by telling vino stories around India and by being a reliable guide. Cheers to that!