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Posted August 25, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

'Experience India': Two of Virginia's newest winemakers bring the taste of their native land to the table

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

AMISSVILLE -- The motto, "experience India ... taste Virginia," unites the past and present for the owners of Narmada Winery in Rappahannock County, who pair Indian food with their own award-winning Virginia wine.

Sudha and Pandit Patil purchased 51 acres in Amissville in 1998 and began building, step by step, the vineyard that they planned to run as a form of retirement. In 2008 they produced wine from their first harvest, and on Nov. 20, they opened for business.

"This was our retirement project," said Mrs. Patil, 60. "We thought what a wonderful thing to get up in the morning and tend to something growing."

She and her husband are not the type to sit around watching the days pass them by.

"When we retire, we could never really sit and do nothing," Mrs. Patil said. Still, she never imagined that they would own a vineyard.

"When we bought this property in '98, there was land with the hay," said Patil, 67. "This is taking baby steps from '98 to 2010."

They planted nine acres then, another almost five a few years later. They currently have 15 square acres of grapes.

Last year, before they even opened their doors to the public, Narmada was one of three wineries in Virginia to earn a platinum award for their wine, Patil said.

"We're amazed," Mrs. Patil said, adding that customers have remarked to her, "Your wines are really good, we didn't expect the wine to be this good."

To have an award-winning product is something. For the product to come from novice wine-makers is something else. That the novice wine-makers are a federal employee and a root-canal specialist, who plan to live out their retirement in Virginia wine country is, well, the stuff of dreams.

To be more specific: "The American dream," said Patil.

"We got the breaks that everyone dreams of," said his wife, who uses her chemistry background in the production area at Narmada. "We're very, very lucky we got the right breaks at the right time."

They attribute their success in life to their family and friends, explaining that during their years pursuing bachelors, masters and later doctorate degrees, there was always someone to help them along the way.

"[It] was like angels coming to help us," Patil said. "It was always nice, someone to guide you."

Their business very much reflects the gratitude they feel for their loved ones, as well as the grace they feel in having made it this far.

The winery, itself, is named for Patil's mother, who, in turn, was named for the Narmada River in India.

Without her the Patils believe they could not have followed their dream of owning a vineyard. In 1965, when Patil moved to the United States to pursue his education, his mother sold her jewelry to help finance the move.

One of their favorite wines, a chardonel/vidal, is called Mom, in tribute to their mothers.

On Mother's Day this year the winery served Mom wine and toasted mothers everywhere.

Other Narmada wines carry names of importance to the couple. Dream wine, which refers to the dream the Patils are now living, is a traminette white wine.

Premita, a red chambourcin, is named for the couple's daughter Prema.

"Naming wine is very important," said Patil. "They're named something from the heart."

Their new wine, Yash-Vir, a Bordeau-style red wine that the couple plans to release this fall, will be named for two of the couple's grandchildren. The youngest grandchild will have to be a bit older to see his name emblazoned on a bottle of red, or perhaps white.

Each wine flavor boasts its own color, as well, a rainbow of vibrancy the couple meant to reflect the bright hues of Indian silk scarves.

"That's what people like about our wine bottles, the way we've done it," said Mrs. Patil. "The wines that have names on them are the wines that have the hybrid grapes."

"The Dream won the label award for the most whimsical," Mrs. Patil said of the State Fair of Virginia Wine Competition in July.

As for the food, the Patils have it catered from Aroma Restaurant in Arlington.

Vegetable Samosas, a lightly-spiced potato-filled pastry with cilantro dipping sauce, are a big hit so far. Their menu includes more than just Indian food, mixing in some Italian, Mexican and even French, but the Patils say the Indian food is what sells best.

"Usually they're the Indian meals people come for," said Mrs. Patil.

Some other dishes are Aloo Tikki, handmade spicy mashed potato and vegetable cakes with Indian yogurt sauce; Chicken Tikka, boneless marinated chicken with cilantro sauce, and Indian bread served with hummus.

Pairing wine with Indian food might have been a reach years ago, considering that wine has not had a long history in India, which traditionally has focused more on whiskey.

All that seems to be changing, though.

"Now, with this new generation ... the new generation is drinking wines," said Mrs. Patil "A lot of the farms are converting the eating grapes into wine grapes."

Despite their fortuitous jump-start, the road ahead might still offer some pitfalls, requiring trial and error, as well as a little luck from Mother Nature.

A finicky line of work, the wine business is unpredictable and dependent on the weather, always perching precariously on a fine line between enough rain and way too much.

Grapes need dry weather, Patil said, but this year might have turned out badly if not for the recent rain.

"Now they're OK, they're smiling now," he said of the grapes.

"Wine grapes this year should be good as long as it doesn't rain at this point," said Mrs. Patil. Some wineries have already begun harvesting because of the dry weather, but the Patils hope to wait another week before beginning.

Sweet wines can wait until just before the first frost, Mrs. Patil said, "but if we think the weather is going to be bad, we just take them off."

Still so new to the business, the Patils have not yet quit their day jobs. Patil works with clean vehicle technology at Argonne National Lab with the U.S. Department of Energy; Mrs. Patil, an endodontist, has her own practice in Culpeper.

When they purchased the property in Amissville, they were living in McLean and came out on weekends to tend the land.

"Five years ago we moved out here," Patil said. "We love it."

So far the Patils are reaping the benefits of their grape crop. Three platinum awards and one gold from the 2010 Virginia Wine Lover Magazine Wine Classic Competition and five awards from the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association feel pretty good.

"A lot of people don't think it means a lot, to win awards," said Mrs. Patil, but for a business just starting out, it means a lot. "Virginia wines are comparing very good now with California wines."

For more information about Narmada Winery, at 43 Narmada Lane in Amissville, visit the Web at www.narmadawinery.com. Narmada wine is available for purchase at the Hazel River Inn and Frenchman's Corner in Culpeper, Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, Thornton River Grille in Sperryville and the Aroma Indian Restaurant in Arlington.

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