If there is one company that has put India firmly on the world wine tourism map, it is Rajeev Samant’s Sula Vineyards, situated in Nashik, Maharashtra. And if there is one event which has taken snobbery out of wine drinking and succeeded in attracting hordes of youngsters to this magical beverage, it is SulaFest, held every year on the first weekend of February, since 2008 in the idyllic environs of Sula Vineyards.
The 10th edition of this trendy wine, music and food extravaganza is just two days away. It promises to be its best ever, looking at the exciting line-up of 120 international and national music artists slated to play at the festival. The setup in 2017 is bigger too, as the festival is spread over three days 3rd 4th and 5th February, compared to the previous two day format.
To accommodate the large number of artists, befitting a “World Music Festival”, three stages have been constructed, a Greek style Amphitheatre, Atmasphere and a new addition, Tropical Stage. Some of the renowned artists performing at SulaFest 2017 will be Bloc Party, an indie rock band from London, Dana Ruh and the Israeli duo with a catchy name “Infected Mushroom”.
Indian artists will be out in full force on Day 1 (3rd Feb) of the fest, when homegrown talent like Indian Ocean, Nucleya, The Raghu Dixit Project will be setting the stage on fire (not literally I hope)
Music across all genres will be featured, from techno, house, electronica, indie, reggae, afro, world fusion to psychedelic trance. Along with wine, this promises to be quite a heady combination.
Talking of wine, which of course will be there in plenty, there will be grape stomping sessions since it is harvest season at the winery, winery tours and organised wine tastings. Sula sold nearly a million cases of wine in 2016 and SulaFest is a great occasion to showcase its various labels and make people understand how that bottle gets from the vineyard to the table. It is also an exposure to Nashik, Maharashtra (about four hours drive from Mumbai), India’s most important wine growing region which many term as India’s own Napa Valley.
However, wine will not be the only beverage served. There will be other spirits too like Mount Gay Rum, Asahi Beer, Cognac all imported through Sula Selections, the import arm of Sula Vineyards. For teetotallers and health freaks, cold press juices from Raw Pressery will satiate your thirst.
And there will be food. Plenty of it from popular Mumbai restaurants like Bombay Food Truck, Mainland China, Busago, Maroosh, Woodside Inn and lots more.
There is a “Tent City” that has been set up amidst the vineyards, complete with a little weekend flea market “SulaFest Bazaar”. What you can expect to enjoy here are Sunrise Yoga Sessions, SulaFest Run and Foot Massages. There will be a Tarot Card reader to give you a little peek into your future.
The three day affair promises to be a lot of fun. The romance of a vineyard setting is unparalleled as it is. Couple that with great music and food and it becomes intoxicating. You will not know till you experience it.
To book tickets (hopefully there will be some left still as last few years have been completely sold out) here is the link.
Diageo seems to be as serious about its recently acquired wine division as it is about its spirits business. The grand launch of Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels 2011 by Four Seasons Wines Ltd (FSWL), now under Diageo’s control after the liquor giant bought UB Group’s United Spirits Limited (USL) of which Four Seasons is a subsidiary, makes their intent quite clear, along with laying to rest rumours about the demise of the Four Seasons wine brand.
Given the growing popularity of wine in India, it makes Diageo’s portfolio even more attractive and the liquor conglomerate is doing all it can to push the sales of Four Seasons wines. Which is great news really for the Indian wine consumers as they get more wines to choose from and healthy competition never hurt anybody, certainly not the Indian wine industry.
Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels 2011 was unveiled on 16th July 2016 at the French chateau styled Four Seasons Winery, located just over an hour’s drive from Pune at Roti village in Maharashtra’s Baramati district. A delicious full-bodied spicy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz chosen from the best parcels, this Rioja meets Amarone with dark fruits, sweet vanilla and smooth ripe velvety tannins has been aged two years in French oak barrels and another two in the bottle. In terms of intensity, depth and flavour this wine is right up there among the best Indian reds in the super-premium category. Though price wise at just Rs 1500 a bottle, it is the most reasonable.
However it is a limited edition wine with only 700 cases (1200 bottles for each region) produced for seven markets, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkatta, Arunachal Pradesh & Andaman & Nicobar Islands. So grab that bottle before the stocks run out. And decant it for an hour to enjoy its full aromas and flavors.
Wine lovers in Delhi will have to wait a wee bit longer to get their hands on this beauty as Mr Kejriwal’s government is yet to announce the new excise policy for Delhi, much to the consternation of Wine & Liquor companies, importers and the hospitality industry.
Four Season’s Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels 2011 is a feather in the cap of FSWL’s Chief Winemaker and Director Abhay Kewadkar. After the launch of two fantastic reserve wines a few years back, Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon & Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz, this latest addition to the Four Seasons Wines portfolio took a while coming but was certainly worth the wait.
It strongly confirms Abhay Kewadkar’s expertise as a wine maker. In fact, he is India’s most experienced winemaker having been involved in the implementation of path-breaking wine projects in India, Indage India’s first Indian sparkling wine “Marquis de Pompadour” in 1988 and Grover Vineyards “La Reserve”, which till date remains India’s most well-known red wine.
Four Season’s Wines Ltd has been Abhay Kewadkar’s baby right from the start. He had his task cut out when he joined FSWL in 2006 after parting with Grovers with whom he worked for 16 long years. From selecting the land for setting up the winery, planting the grapes, making the wine to marketing it, this has been his project all the way.
Since its inception the winery has won 48 international awards in the wine circuit. The classic Four Seasons range which only had single varietals in its portfolio is now venturing into blends and the Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels 2011, is a foray in this direction.
The launch function at the winery was very impressive and the pool-side setting could not have been more perfect. An elaborate three course sit down lunch catered by the team from Taj Vivanta Pune led by Chef Sachin Joshi was just one of the many moments to remember from my first visit to the Four Seasons winery. Right from the time one entered the palatial chateau and was welcomed with a glass of the yet to be released Rosé bubbly, a delicious barbeque dinner, an early morning walk around the property with Abhay Kewadkar and his three adorable Dobermans Caesar, Lucy and Max, a Maharashtrian breakfast where the sparkling rosé was paired with “misal paav”, to a dip in the swimming pool, it was a memorable visit indeed. The wine just did not stop flowing and the generous hospitality of Four Seasons left a lasting impression.
Four Seasons Winery is a gorgeous property recently opened to public giving a great fillip to wine tourism in India. It makes the most beautiful “grape escape destination” with its ten well decorated rooms and four suites, all equipped with modern amenities and a tasting room to try out the wines. There is a swimming pool, outdoor jacuzzi, mountain bikes to explore the vineyards and a pool side deck to throw parties. To find out about Four Seasons Wine Tour you may click here and the link for booking a tour is this.
The successful launch of Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels 2011 augurs well for Four Seasons Wines Ltd and one looks forward to many more new wines from their stable. As for me, I am eagerly awaiting the release of their sparkling rosé which I was fortunate to taste.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
Following are the Four Seasons Brands available in Delhi & Haryana
Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Rs 1000) Only Delhi
Four Seasons Classic Barrique Reserve Shiraz (Rs 900) Only Haryana
Four Seasons Classic Sauvignon Blanc (Rs 650) Both Delhi & Haryana
Four Seasons Classic Shiraz (Rs 650) Both Delhi & Haryana
Four Seasons Classic Cabernet Sauvignon (Rs 650) Only Haryana
Four Seasons Classic Chenin Blanc (Rs 650) Only Haryana
“I am a golfer who loves wine” is how Charles Mélia, founder of Domaine du Val d’Argan, situated some 20 odd kilometres from the beautiful Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira, introduced himself to me.
However it was not golf but his passion for wine which brought this adventurous Frenchman to Morocco, thousands of miles away from his home in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where his family owns a vineyard Château de la Font Du Loup.
It was quite by chance that I found out about Le Val D’Argan while sipping on some Moroccan tea at Café des Epices, close to Jemaa el Fna, the main market square in Marrakech. When I told the manager Omar Lyazidi that my food and wine trails had brought me to Morocco, he insisted I stop at Val d’Argan, on my way to Essaouira. I am so glad I listened to him as the few hours that I spent at this boutique winery were some of my most memorable moments in Morocco. Not to mention the wines which were just superb, including an organic “gray wine” Perle Grise de Mogador which was not grey but pale pink in color.
Sitting at the outdoor summer restaurant next to the swimming pool around which was a guest house with three rooms, each with a different colour scheme, I was finding it difficult to believe that I was in Morocco and not some vineyard in the South of France. Copious amounts of wine was being poured in our glasses as my father and I settled for the degustation four course menu paired with four wines. The rosé was so delicate, fruity and fresh that I could have easily finished a bottle by myself.
Hundreds of questions were running through my head like how did this Frenchman manage to grow vines in a semi-arid desert like terroir where summer temperatures could reach as high as 45 degree centigrade. What were the varietals which found best expression in this region? Luckily for me all these were answered by the vigneron himself who joined us for the last course.
Charles Mélia, a Frenchman who spent the first twenty years of his life in North Africa, founded Les Domaines du Val D’Argan in 1994 in a virgin territory where no one could ever think of growing vine. He had to literally begin from scratch including getting electricity & water connections for his property. It took him four years to build the winery, cellar, restaurant and guest house. Even now it is work in progress as he is constructing a new cellar and expanding the winter restaurant on the first floor above the winery. This one has panoramic views of the vineyard, olive and argan trees.
The grapes that Charles decided to plant were the Rhone valley varietals that he was familiar with; Ugni Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussane, Viognier, Bourboulenc & Muscat de Beaumes for the whites and for the rose & red it was Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Marselan.
In reply to my query about sunburn affecting his crop he explained how the cooling winds from the Atlantic took care of the high temperatures. He also used efficient canopy management techniques (sorghum crop cover) to protect his grapes from heat stress. While taking a stroll around the vineyard I could feel those gentle pleasing winds. Incidentally Val D’Argan is the first vineyard in Morocco to obtain organic certification.
The one varietal that Charles Mèlia loves working with and which he feels has the greatest potential is Marselan, a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon used in AOC Côtes du Rhone appellation mostly for blends. It is a red wine grape known for its highly tannic nature and Charles finds it very challenging as a wine maker to tame the tannins and produce a mono-varietal wine. I tasted a sample from the barrel and found it to be complex yet harmonious. In fact most of the wines of Domaine du Val D’Argan are well structured with minimal oak. Charles Mélia likes to keep it simple and in harmony with nature . He uses bio-dynamic techniques and very little manipulation. He also has a small barrel cellar where he loves to experiment with several varietals including a late harvest Viognier.
Walking around the winery with Charles hearing him belt out orders in fluent Arabic to his workers, I could not help but admire this Frenchman who has achieved the impossible task of producing fine French wine in African desert. I found his wines had elegance and restraint.
There is no way you should miss out a chance to try them out on your visit to Morocco.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
It is easy to reach Val D’Argan which lies just two hours west of Marrakesh in Ounagha, only 20 minutes away from the historic coastal town of Essaouira. Perfect for wine tourism, it offers rooms, a restaurant which serves delicious food paired with wine and a tour of the winery, cellars and vineyard.
The main labels of the domaine are Gazelle of Mogador, El Mogador, The Val d’Argan, and Orients of Val d’Argan. These can be found at most prestigious restaurants of Morocco including Heure Bleue Palais at Essaouria.
The IWINETC (International Wine Tourism Conference) delegates are in for a treat when they visit Torres Winery at Pacs del Penedes, Catalunya on April 6th 2016, where a Wine Tour and Gala Dinner is being organised for them as a part of the IWINETC Networking Program. Torres is one of the Gold Sponsors of this prestigious event; the initiative of Barcelona based Englishman Anthony Swift. I have experienced the legendary Torres hospitality first-hand and can say without doubt that it is really the best.
A meeting with Miguel Torres Maczassek in June 2015 during Vinexpo at Bordeaux France resulted in my visit to Bodegas Torres near Barcelona. He extended me an invitation and there was no way I was going to refuse, as I am a huge fan of the highly rated Torres Wines, which are very popular in India. Their easy drinking approachable wines are a great value for money and most important of all, the fruit forward style matches well with spicy Indian cuisine.
It was Sumit Sehgal of Prestige Wines & Spirits (Importers & Distributors of Torres Wines in India) who co-ordinated my trip to Bodegas Torres, 60 kms west of Barcelona, on 12th October 2015, which happened to be a public holiday in Spain. But that wasn’t the reason why the Torres Visitor’s Centre was bursting with people. I was told that this was the norm on working days too, as Torres Winery is one of the most visited wineries in the world. Its proximity and easy connectivity to Barcelona makes it an ideal destination for a day-trip.
My visit began with a short film on the history of the Penedes based, family owned Bodegas Torres, which was founded in 1870. This Spanish wine giant owns vineyards in 8 different appellations of Spain and also produces wines in Chile and California. 70% of the company’s turnover is made up of exports and India is one of the 140 countries where Torres sells its wines. The film throws light on Torres commitment to environment and their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions at the winery by 30% by the year 2020. They have stopped using pesticides and run a program to recover and preserve ancient Catalan grape varieties in the danger of extinction.
While taking a mini-train tour of the sprawling winery, set in the midst of vineyards, I could see how serious the Torres family is towards respecting nature. A lot of buildings had solar panels pointing towards the use of renewable energy. I saw a huge water recycling plant and noticed that though the various buildings at the winery had a modern contemporary design, they were in complete harmony with the natural surroundings. The artwork scattered around the winery complex adds a touch of aesthetic. It truly is one of the most innovative and advanced wineries in Europe.
The mini train took us around the property, through the vineyards, past the cellars and the winery. Even though I enjoyed the tour immensely, I felt it lacked a personal feel and was a little bit industrial. But I guess that keeping in mind the huge volume of visitors; this is the most efficient way to show people around in the shortest possible time.
The tour lasted nearly an hour & ended at the spacious tasting room where I got a chance to try out a few of the 50 odd wine brands that Torres sells. Among these was Fransola, a refined single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ; Milmanda, a 100% oaked Chardonnay; the ever popular red Sangre de Toro and Gran Muralles, an intriguing high end blend which features the nearly extinct ancient Catalan varietals Garró & Samso. And of course the most prestigious wine from the Torres portfolio, the single vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Mas la Plana, of which I purchased a bottle before leaving the visitor’s centre. A knowledgeable & welcoming staff at the tasting room makes the whole experience of trying out the wines educative as well as pleasurable.
Since the much awarded Mas Rabell restaurant at the winery was closed due to a public holiday in Spain on the day that I visited, my lunch was organised at La Vinoteca Torres at Passeig de Garcia in Barcelona. Visitors to Barcelona must check out this place and try out any wine from the Torres cellar which is served by the glass along with some delicious tapas showcasing Spanish gastronomy. The diversity of range & myriad styles, from simple mass-market wines to luxurious single vineyard cuvées, is mind boggling indeed. Torres lives up to the motto of “making wines which reflect the personality of each vineyard”
I would like to end by saying it yet again that there are very few wine companies whose hospitality can match that of Bodegas Torres. Their commitment to ecological and social causes through the Miguel Torres Foundation makes this largest winery in Spain, the most admired wine brand in the world. I am looking forward to visiting Bodega Torres once again during the upcoming IWINETC 2016 and writing more about their wines.
By : Lavina Kharkwal
To read more about Miguel Torres, S.A here is the link to an earlier article I had written on Bodegas Torres
For a country whose per capita consumption of wine is a mere 9 milliliters per annum compared to the global average of 4 litres, India has a thriving wine industry. There is a constant refrain one hears even from Indians that our wines are not good which is a far cry from the truth. In fact a lot of Indian wines are superior in taste and are better value for money than some of the entry level low quality fare, both from the Old & New World, which is flooding the Indian market. Many Indian wineries are producing good quality premium wines and one of them is Fratelli. I got a chance to visit Fratelli Wines in Akluj, 170 kms from Pune in Solapur district of Maharashtra and see for myself the state of the art winery, beautiful vineyards and taste some of their premium wines.
Fratelli Wines has come a long way within a short span of time, a little over four years to be precise, as it was only in October 2010 when its first vintage was launched in the Indian market with just three wine labels. That number has now gone up to 28 labels (of which 6 include the imported range) encompassing twelve varietals like Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz and all major international styles.
It isn’t merely a matter of numbers. Fratelli has managed to carve a niche for itself in the Indian wine industry and is now catching the attention of the world because of the quality of its wines. An Indo-Italian collaboration, it was the first to experiment with growing the Italian varietal Sangiovese on Indian soil, under the aegis of Piero Masi, the famed Tuscan viticulturist and winemaker. Not content with making just a regular red wine Sangiovese, Piero Masi experimented with making a still white wine Sangiovese Bianco from a red grape varietal, a process which requires great expertise.
Fratelli is also a pioneer in making a zero dosage sparkling wine Gran Cuvée Brut from 100% Chenin Blanc, putting to rest the general misconception that most Indian sparkling wines are excessively sweet. While zero dosage is a popular trend abroad, no winery in India has tried it before Fratelli. Dosage or “liquer d’expedition” is basically additional sugar added to champagne and sparking wines after disgorgement and before final corking to balance the acidity. Sparkling wines sans dosage or undosed are said to have better minerality and are supposed to be more expressive of the terroir as they reveal the complexities of the wine without masking it with sugar, though the last word is still not out on this one.
It is the only winery to plant Gewürztraminer in India. This and another cool climate varietal Muller-Thurgau is used along with Chenin Blanc to produce a single vineyard blend VITAE TRE. Then there is a barrel fermented Chardonnay VITAE, the usage of oak resulting in a wine with a firm structure and a creamier, rounder finish.
Coming to their flagship and most prized wine SETTE, a blend of Sangiovese & Cabernet Sauvignon with a small percentage of Cabernet Franc. It is matured in French oak for 14 months and is an Indian wine with good ageing potential. With three vintages released so far 2009, 2010 & 2011 SETTE is garnering appreciation both from customers and critics alike. Alessio Secci, one of the co-owners of Fratelli wines goes so far as calling it a “Super Indian” on the lines of a Super Tuscan on which SETTE is modelled.
One of the reasons why Fratelli is producing wines of such good quality and consistency is that all its 240 acres of vineyards at Akluj, spread over three sites Motewadi (where the winery is located) Nimgaon & Garwad are estate owned. The advantage of using grapes sourced only from their own vineyards is that since they can directly supervise cultivation, strict quality control is maintained, harvesting is done at optimum ripeness and grapes are picked, transported and crushed in the shortest possible time. They say that “wine can be no better than the grapes from which it is made”. Hence estate wineries always produce the finest wines.
In the field of wine tourism too, Fratelli Wines is making a mark as it is one of the few wineries which offers accommodation in a vineyard setting, even though it is only limited to four aesthetically decorated rooms. There are various packages like day visits, weekend getaways, Rejuvenation and Rent-a-vineyard packages. Meals are provided on prior order and guests staying at the facility can even try their hand at cooking in the open kitchen which offers a panoramic view of the vineyards.
There are two tasting rooms, one modern facing the imposing winery and the other more traditional located in the cellar room amidst oak barrels. Wines can be purchased at discounted prices and there are souvenirs like wine glasses, wine openers, carry bags and coasters which can be bought.
A short 15 minute drive from the winery at Motewadi is Syrah Hut which overlooks the vineyards at Garwad. Wine tasting option is offered at this breathtakingly beautiful and serene locale.
It is really encouraging to see Indian wines making inroads into foreign markets and Fratelli is no exception. It has a presence in USA, UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Italy and Netherlands. Just last week Abhishek Haryson, Senior Manager Corporate Communication and Marketing conducted an exclusive tasting session of Fratelli wines for top Swedish business and travel community members at India Unlimited in Stockholm Sweden at the behest of Indian Ambassador in Sweden, Banashri Bose Harrison.
At the end of the day it is all a question of changing the mindset about Indian wines, first among our own people and then abroad, that wines from India can match international standards in terms of quality and pricing. Fratelli Wines is doing just that.
Since I keep getting queries and requests from readers to mention the prices of the wines here they are: The prices in Delhi of 750ml size bottles of some the wines are Vero Sauvignon Blanc & Vero Cabernet Sauvignon (Rs 460) ; Shiraz Rose (Rs 650); Fratelli Chenin Blanc (660) Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc-Shiraz (Rs 740); Chardonnay (Rs 850); Sangiovese Bianco (Rs 880) Sangiovese (Rs 930); ; Gran Cuvee Brut (Rs 1120) Vitae Chardonnay (Rs 1600) Vitae Tre (Rs 1600) & Sette (Rs 1800)
Select wines are also available in pint size bottles (375ml) They range from Rs 265 to Rs 420