I often wonder what drives some people into abandoning a fairly comfortable life to pursue seemingly impossible tasks where chances of success are uncertain. Is it a firm belief in their abilities to succeed or is risk taking a part of their DNA?
In the case of Alessio Secci, the Italian Partner and one of the co-owners of Fratelli Wines, it is both, along with a desire to come out of his comfort zone and constantly challenge himself. That is why he quit a highly profitable family business in Florence Italy and together with Sekhri brothers from Delhi and Mohite Patils of Sholapur, embarked on a journey to make wine in a country like India, not really known for wine production and where both wine making and marketing is a tough proposition.
Piero Masi, a famous Tuscan winemaker was roped in and together these seven partners planted vineyards and set up a cutting edge winery, in a back of beyond place with inhospitable terrain like Akluj (170 kms south of Pune) where it is difficult to grow anything, leave alone Sangiovese, a grape varietal not known to do well outside its home in Central Italy. This was in the year 2006 and rest as they say is history.
Fratelli Wines is now a well-established brand and counted among the top wine companies of India. However all this has not come about easily. To use words like “blood sweat & tears” sounds terribly clichéd but wine making is a serious business even though it may sound very romantic. It’s a long term investment where you pump in a lot of money and returns come only after many years. That is why it is not possible to talk about wine without using the word “passion” as it is the only driving force which propels people like Alessio, Piero, Kapil Sekhri and other partners of Fratelli Wines to continue with their dream.
Making wine is also a very intricate business. Spending a day at Fratelli Winery during harvest season showed me what exactly it entails to get that bottle of wine from the vineyard to the table. Harvest is by far the busiest and most important time in a winemaker’s calendar. It is also the toughest as it involves spending endless hours under the harsh sun, checking the grapes for optimum ripeness and balance between natural sugar and acidity. Choosing the right time for picking is extremely crucial and though there are instruments to measure “brix” or concentration of grape sugars, it is also about personal judgement. That is why either Alessio or Piero Masi is always around during harvest to personally oversee the operations. The vagaries of weather don’t help much either. For example, this year an exceptionally hot winter in Akluj led to an early harvest at Fratelli Vineyards which was then stopped when it became cooler, and resumed in January.
The winery too functions round the clock during harvest with workers doing day and night shifts. The flurry of activities begins early morning when the grapes come in from the vineyards. Destemming, crushing, pressing, transferring into tanks, adding of yeast, délestage (rack and return), processes which are all carried out in succession. Doing a round of the winery I became familiar with terms like “punch-downs” and “pump-overs”, tasted grape juice from the tanks at every stage of fermentation and saw how blending is done to reach that perfect flavour. I was given in a lesson in how decisions are made, whether to use malolactic which alters the aroma and texture of wine and storage (whether to use stainless steel tanks or oak barrels) understood procedures like clarification, stabilization and finally saw the preparation for bottling. Who said wine-making was glamorous?
And these are just the winery operations. At the vineyard it’s a different ball game altogether. I was explained that there are many aspects to take care of like irrigation, canopy management, bunch weight, pruning decisions, all of which affect the quality of grapes. Fratelli owns vineyards at three sites in Akluj, Nimgaon, Garwar & Motewadi (where the winery stands). Some time back the Oval Bar at JW Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity had launched a unique promotion “Celebrating Select Indian Produce” where three flights of Fratelli wines named after these three vineyard sites were offered at discounted rates. This was a fabulous idea to promote “terroir” and a long way from days when Indian wines were not even featured on the wine list of 5 star hotels. And now hotels are proudly showcasing Indian wines highlighting the progress made both in quality and wine making process.
While the sights and smell of a winery fascinate me what I love most is tasting wine with the wine maker. It is a special moment when he pours the wine in your glass. This is a wine which is in pristine condition as it has never travelled and always tastes better. I tried some of the latest 2015 vintages of Fratelli wines and loved the Chenin Blanc, Vitae Chardonnay and a new label Vitae Sangiovese. Recently released 2012 vintage of the super-premium flagship wine Sette, is in my opinion, the best so far in terms of balance and structure. What I like about Fratelli Wines wines is that they have struck a perfect balance between being “product-oriented” and “market-oriented” catering to consumer taste without compromising on quality and their own ethos.
So next time you see a bottle of wine, remember all the effort which has gone into bringing it to your table. It is not just grape juice in there but a story of terroir and the trials and tribulations of the wine maker.
By : Lavina Kharkwal
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