Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Nashik is a mere 183 kilometres north-east of Mumbai, nestled amidst the undulating contours of the Sahyadris. A rather arduous five hour journey by road is worth the pains for the gains are two-fold: wines and worship. The lure of Nashik is differential; for some it is the draw of the almighty for Nashik is one of the holiest places in India, the source of the Godavari River and one of the four places which have the honour of hosting the Kumbha Mela. Legend says that in the eternal battle between good and evil viz. the Devas and the Asuras, this time over the possession of an amphora of the nectar of life, termed, “Amrit”, some drops of the elixir fell in Nashik rendering the place holiest of holy. For us lesser mortals, Nashik entices one with the promise of some of the best domestic wines produced in India courtesy the numerous wineries that call it home.
Sula Vineyards may not really ring bells outside India but it is infact, a behemoth in the nascent Indian wine industry. Set up in 1996 by a maverick entrepreneur, Rajeev Samant, it has rapidly metamorphosed into a highly profitable venture holding the lion’s share in the Indian wine market also exporting decent, inexpensive wines around the world. Rajeev Samant, a Stanford graduate, gave up a high-paying job at Oracle to set up Sula to give flesh and blood to the entrepreneur in him. People scoffed at his seemingly preposterous idea of producing wines for back then, the average Indian barely knew what wine was. Whine!
Nashik has always been the grape capital of the country but producing solely table varieties like the Thompson seedless. No one had heard of Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels….let alone spelling and pronouncing them! Having spent a lot of time in California’s sunny clime, he felt the time was right to introduce the joys of wine to India. He boldly planted India’s first ever Cabernet Sauvignons imported from Napa Valley in January 1996, followed by batches of Zinfandel, Merlot amongst others. The cool, sunny climate of hilly Nashik was just perfect for these grapes to prosper and the first batch of Indian wines hit the market somewhere in the late 1990s.
Today, the quantum of acreage under viticulture in Nashik is mind-boggling: 300 acres owned by Sula themselves and 800 acres of contract farmed grapes. The Gangapur Lake in the vicinity cools the area and the dam on the lake produces power. Sula’s prosperity has spilled over to the nearby villages and they are electrified today and every villager owns a two-wheeler!
We hit Nashik over the weekend, a welcome getaway from the monotony of urban Mumbai life. A half hour drive from the city centre brought us to India’s wine country. It’s amazing for on either side of the road and as far as the eye can see, vines stretch out interspersed with mango and other fruit trees. Luscious bunches of grapes hang invitingly, calling out to passing cars! Most are protectively covered in plastic bags to keep out excess heat and roving gangs of birds.
After a brief tour of the estate and some insight into production techniques, we did the tasting of the estate produced wines. Decent wines to say it with brevity, not too much variety, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The winner was certainly the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc dessert wine, the first of its kind in India. We sure have 32 sweet teeth, I sometimes think! Enthusiastic people thronged the place for the sheer novelty of the experience all for the princely sum of Rs.100 which let one taste 5 different wines! Quite a fun experience on the whole.
Now of course we have several wineries in India but almost all are concentrated in the grape belts of Pune, Sangli and Nashik here in Maharashtra in the west of India. Apart from Sula, Grover and Chateau Indage are the big names here. Goa, with its rich Portuguese heritage produces some very good ports too.
All in a weekend spent in winery finery!!


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