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.
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
My journey to the wine regions of India began very recently. It was only after I decided to speak on the “Potential for Wine Tourism in India” at the International Wine Tourism Conference, La Champagne 2015, that I set forth to explore our own wine country. Prior to this I had been to vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Italy & France, but never to one in India. While there been a tremendous growth in the Indian wine industry and an improvement in the quality of Indian wines, I was keen to see for myself if there was an exponential growth in wine tourism and to check out the facilities on offer.
I began my explorations with a wine tour to Grover Zampa Vineyards situated in Nandi Hills Karnataka, an hour and a half drive from Bangalore and just 40 minutes from the airport. The reason why I chose this vineyard is because it is the oldest surviving winery in India and their iconic red wine La Réserve, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz, has been an old favorite and the most consistent Indian wine in terms of quality. It was awarded the best New World red wine by Decanter magazine in 2005. The recent launch of VA Reserve Collection White, a barrel fermented & barrique aged Viognier and VA Reserve Red, introduced the concept of celebrity wine labels in India, with tennis star Vijay Amritraj lending his name to the label.
Grover Zampa has also been in news recently for winning a spate of awards (36 awards for 12 wines in the last 18 months) at various International wine competitions and making inroads into international markets, exporting to over 20 countries. The merger of Grover Vineyards Ltd (GVL) with Nashik based Vallée de Vin (VDV) resulting in the creation of Grover Zampa Vineyards in 2012 has infused new life into the company helping it to catch up with the market leader Sula, though it still has a long way to go.
Bangalore is blessed with a salubrious climate and Grover Zampa Vineyards, located at the foothills of Nandi Hills, around 40 kms from the city, is a perfect destination for wine tourism if one wants to learn about grape growing, wine making and tasting from the barrels. However it is only possible to make day trips as there are no facilities for staying at the vineyard itself. Being in close proximity to a city like Bangalore, there are plenty of options to choose from. I stayed at the Angsana Oasis Spa & Resort, a beautiful property situated on the main Doddaballapur Road, and only 15 minutes away from the winery.
At the winery I met Karishma Grover, a dynamic young woman who wears many hats, that of the Assistant Winemaker of Grover-Zampa Vineyards, part owner of the company being the daughter of Kapil Grover, and someone whose passion for wine begins showing the moment she starts talking. Over a glass of Art Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which has won the prestigious International Trophy for Sauvignon Blanc at the 3rd Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) held recently in Hong Kong, she told me how her grandfather Kanwal Grover, was a pioneer of Indian viticulture as he was the first to plant French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon on Indian terroir and who enrolled the services of wine makers like George Vessels, Michel Rolland and Bruno Yvon, to come out with quality Indian wines as far back as 1992.
Like her grandfather Karishma Grover is a pioneer in many areas related to wine especially in the field of wine tourism. Armed with a degree in Viticulture & Oenology from University of California, Davis and an internship at the cellars in Napa valley, she is now focusing her attention on stabilizing quality control, introducing wines in the premium segment and doing her bit towards wine education by organizing guided wine tours. These include a visit to the vineyards which are at a little distance from the winery and where the nuances of viticulture are explained in lay man’s terms. This is followed by a tour of the winery where the entire process of wine making is explained, often by Karishma herself.
Wine tasting is done in a Barrel Room where premium wines are aged. This is a lovely experience as one can soak in the unique atmosphere of the winery with the smell of oak permeating the air as well as taste 5 wines and learn about food & wine pairing. The entire wine tour which lasts approximately 3 hours ends with a delicious lunch buffet comprising only of Veg & Non-Veg Biryani right now, but plans are afoot for opening a fully functional multi-cuisine restaurant. One can also buy wines at discounted prices from the winery.
Karishma Grover is also responsible for introducing the Art Collection, which includes Merlot, Cabernet Shiraz, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc & Rose and features designer labels painted by famous Indian contemporary artists. Under the direction of French wine consultant Mathais Pellisard who has been associated with Grover Zampa since the last four years, and a dynamic CEO Sumedh Singh Mandla at the helm, huge inroads have been made into the Premium wine segment with the launch of new labels like La Réserve Blanc, VA Reserve Collection both white & red, Chêne, Grover Zampa Soirée Brut & Rose and others.
It is heartening to see how far the Indian wine industry has progressed, though in terms of wine tourism as we know of it in the West, we still have a lot of ground to cover. The availability of good quality Indian wines will help the cause of wine tourism because at the end of the day, this is what will prompt visitors into planning a wine trip despite the lack of infrastructure to support a thriving wine tourism industry.