A group of Delhi Wine Club members visited Nashik during SulaFest and tasted wines and/or visited wineries of Grover Zampa Vineyards, Vallonne, Vintage, Charosa, York, Casablanca and of course Sula where they spent one long evening enjoying music, food and wine at the SulaFest, writes Subhash Arora who had organised this week-end visit for a second time due to a strong request from some members
I visited SulaFest for the first time 4-5 years ago and the music in me loved it so much that I asked Cecilia Oldne, the present Global Brand Ambassador and Head of International Business and Communications of Sula about the dates for the next edition so I could plan another visit. I was surprised when she told me they had not decided the dates yet. What was there to think about and decide? They should fix it on the first week-end of every February, I said. The weather is nice, it’s the harvest time, and people can plan the trip well in advance- even more than a year.
I am not sure if she put forth my suggestions but it seems to be on the first week-end of February since. In fact, I now recommend to all overseas journalists or wine aficionados who like to visit Indian wineries to keep the date in mind so that they may also attend the SulaFest and feel the vibrancy and the future of wines first-hand. Naturally, when I decided to take members of the Delhi Wine Club for a visit to the Nashik wineries the first time, I had fixed the dates such that the visit would coincide with a trip to SulaFest on Saturday evening. The trip was such a huge success and there was so much bonding that the group is constantly in touch since.
This trip had similar overtones. SulaFest was on 7-8 February (check your calendar-the first weekend of February!). Despite exigencies to change the visit to other dates from several quarters, we decided to have the visit coincide with the Fest. The programme was tight- no unbridled visits but pre-planned with an element of seriousness with fun.
Visit to Grover Zampa
When the Nashik Wine Route no. 1 is established ( I have been contending for years that it is important to promote wine tourism in India by choosing Wine Routes/Streets/Stradas/Strasses like the rest of the wine world, but I presume everyone is counting on the State Government to come up with the map, GroverZ (coined by delWine as single word-the name is as crisp and musical to the ears as wines are to the palate) would have to be the first winery to visit. Taking the 8:30 am flight from Delhi to Mumbai, we reached the winery at around 2:30 pm (with a more adventurous group I would leave Delhi earlier and be at the winery comfortably by 12:30 or 1 pm).
Thanks to the instructions from Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO of GroverZ the lunch was ready with food catered from the Taj Gateway Nashik, which we devoured with the Soiree Brut and the trophy-winning Art Series Sauvignon Blanc. This was followed by a tasting in the Tasting room followed by a walk to the beautiful vineyards on the slopes. Abhay Rajoria whom I had met in Bangalore in the Alpine Winery a couple of months ago, has now joined GroverZ. The viticulturist and enologist with training in France was keen and happy to explain the technical details to the overawed members some of whom were new to the winemaking but excited with the new experience.
GroverZ is fast moving towards wine tourism and already encourages tourists, charging them only Rs. 600 for 7 premium wines including sparkling. We tasted 9 wines including both the Vijay Amritraj Collection Reserve wines. If you think he can help you meet Vijay Amritraj in person or want to know more about his wines or where they are available, contact email@example.com and he will put you in touch with the right person. Otherwise, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Owned by Shailendra Pai in Mumbai, Vallonne is a boutique winery situated in Sanjegaon, close to GroverZ and would be a natural choice for a visit to Nashik, especially as it offers free visits and tastings as of now. I had never been able to visit it-Shailendra always told me it was a few minutes from the Sanjegaon turn. Sanjegaon is 7 km after you turn left at Wadivarhe, about 20 kms before Nashik, on the Mumbai-Nashik highway. I tried a couple of times before but after driving for about 5 kms and not finding the dirt road that takes you to the winery according to his directions, never came my way and I always turned back.
This time, Shailendra went a step further to make the visit happen-he deputed his manager to meet us at GroverZ, who escorted us to the winery. I realised why I could not find the winery earlier; it was about 10 kms away and there is general absence of any signage (there is none even at the Sanjegaon turn-only one near the winery that says 1km but feels 2).
Once you reach the winery which is still not completely finished but where 5,000 cases (60,000 bottles) are produced yearly, you realise that he is sitting on a goldmine for a wine resort-with the beautiful lake close-by and a silhouette of the Sahyadri mountain range a part of the beautiful natural surroundings. Of course, a lot of financial planning and partnership would be required. After all, even the highly successful Beyond Resort of Sula wasn’t built in a day!
We tasted the range of Chenin Blanc (my favourite of the evening -89/100), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon Rose and Cabernet Sauvignon ’09, but the sweet delight was Chenin Blanc where the grapes had spent 24 weeks drying on the straw. With 160 gm/liter residual sugar it was the sweet honey notes that were balanced by crisp acidity that earned it 93/100 and it was a nice climax to the visit before heading for out hotel in Nashik.
To enjoy free tasting with a visit contact email@example.com
Vintage Wines and Dinner with the Winemaker
If members of the group felt it would be fun drinking wine and relaxing, they were in for surprise. Barely straightening our backs in the hotel, we had to rush to Taj Gateway, where Yatin Patil, Founder-Director of the small winery- Vintage Wines producing Reveilo labelled wines was awaiting us along with his Italian consultant winemaker, Andrea Valentinuzzi who had been in Nashik for the harvest.
The Friuliano winemaker has been with the Patil family (Yatin and his wife Kiran look after the business together) from the beginning. In fact, he had met them at Vinitaly in 2004 through an Italian friend whom Yatin met but who didn’t speak English and therefore asked Andrea if he would be interested in the assignment in India. He agreed, the work started immediately and the rest is history.
If you like the Italian grapes introduced in India by Vintage (Patils should give a discount to anyone who can correctly pronounce the Reveilo label that derived from ‘Rivelare’ and means ‘to reveal’), you know the man behind. Grillo, Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese have been well accepted by the Indian consumer as varietals and have added a bit of spice to the staple international varieties like Chenin, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon which also adorn their small portfolio.
They say the flavour of a wine depends, not only the wine and company but the surroundings. The enchanting lawn at the back of Taj Gateway offers unmatchable surrounds in Nashik and could vie with many other hotels for the romantic, quiet and peaceful venue chosen by Yatin for the tasting. Therefore, if the wines tasted excellent- Grillo (90), Chardonnay (87), Nero d’Avola (88), Sangiovese (90), the ambience might have something to do with it-as much as the excellent food prepared by the Chef.
But the Reserve range we tasted- Syrah Reserve and Cabernet Reserve 2012 (both 91) were the quality leaders when they were launched- and expensive at Rs. 1245 and Rs. 1475 respectively today. Both had a lovely balance with oak waltzing in the back ground, nice structure, complex- Syrah was spicier but otherwise full of concentration and red berry flavours. As Andrea explained, these were the signature reds where the yield was very low at 2-3 tons/acre and the quantity produced was small. It is interesting that Andrea grew up in the white wine region but thanks to experience of working in several countries and other regions of Italy, he developed expertise for red wines. He is now also consulting with SDU Wineries in Bangalore and a few others in Italy. He is not a fan of oak chips and says they use oak barrels for the premium wines.
The winery is about 40 kms away and it was not feasible this time to visit although we had been to the winery with the DWC on our previous visit. Vintage has tied up with Prestige Wines and Spirits Pvt Ltd. as national distributors and will be available in Delhi also from next month. Their wine-tourism project seems to be on the backburner for a while.
If you would like some more mysteries to be revealed, contact Yatin@Reveilo.com
If one goes for a 2-day Nasik winery trip, it is not feasible to visit Charosa which is beyond Dindori, about 55 kms from Nashik on seemingly never-ending road. But I had been very impressed at the very first tasting at the Pali Village Cafe in Bandra one and a half years ago and then the winery a few months ago. I knew the Club members might not get a chance to visit such an impressive winery in the near future and should take advantage of my presence in Nashik.
Charosa is a new generation winery with a massive capital infused in the equipment- the machinery is modern and mostly from Italy. But they also have an excellent team at the winery whose day to day operations are managed by Pralhad Parvatikar and the competent New Zealand trained winemaker Ashok Patil- both having experience at Chateau Indage-Parvatikar was in fact the CEO before working in L &T.
It would be a while before Charosa joins the wine tourism club unless the Chairman of the holding company HCC Ltd, Mr Ajit Gulabchand starts a reasonably priced helicopter service (they already have a helipad). Since it was the harvest time, the crushing process could be observed first-hand. Members were quite fascinated by the machines and the process of unloading, destemming, crushing and fermentation. Their Cellar room is quite impressive-as is the bottling line.
If the wine style is described by sugar content, Charosa wines would be in the ‘dry style’ Category, with Pralhad telling us that their wines have less than 2 gms/liter of residual sugar. They have introduced three labels at various price points- Pleasure series (about Rs. 500), Selection Series (Rs. 750-800- the best value-for-money wines), and the slightly expensive but premium- Reserve series at Rs. 1500 for connoisseurs. As might be expected, over 40% of the sales are in the Pleasure series, 50% in Selection and the Reserve constitute the balance of 5-6%. Interestingly, all the bottles are screw-capped.
The company does everything in style-including the use of patented 550 gms embossed Bordeaux-styled bottles with tapered neck-each mould cost them Rs. 5million to make but it makes the bottles and the packaging unique.
We selected 7 wines for tasting, choosing our favourites to go with the home-cooked wholesome lunch waiting for us at the guest house. Viognier 2014 Selection was aromatic with apricot flavour (91). Sauvignon Blanc 2014 had grassy aromas and the typical herbaceous aromas that followed into the flavour (87). Cabernet Shiraz Pleasure was quaffable (84), whereas the Shiraz Selection was quite tannic with nice structure and coffee notes in the back layer with plenty of blackcurrants and green pepper (87). Tempranillo Reserve had great balance-with each vintage it is getting better as the vines planted in 2008-09 getting older (94). We also tasted the 2012 Cabernet Reserve with slight herbaceous aromas and pepper (89) followed by the young Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (85).
This new winery has about 81 acres planted out of 240 acres of land available and has been able to sell 15,000 cases in the very first year with the target of 25,000 this year. These numbers are not enough to break even which in their case is 35,000 cases.
One would be hearing of their wines a lot in future. For a possible visit, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For my visit to Charosa a few months ago, visit Charosa has ‘Bharosa’ to make Best Indian Wines
Sula and SulaFest
The culmination of the visit was as planned, at Sula Vineyards which turn into a different world every February for a couple of days and this is an experience one must enjoy at least once-our members have experienced it twice. Although we had a range of their wines to drink, I was also able to taste their new additions -Sula Seco Rose and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve launched about a month ago in Mumbai. With a total production of 300 cases, Rajeev Samant, was doubtful if it would be available in Delhi at least for a couple of years.
Cabernet was truly delicious, had great balance and with none of the herbaceous and green grass characters that have come to be known as ‘Nashik Stink’ in the private circles. I have maintained for several years that this was typical characteristic of Maharashtra soil/climate and more specifically Nashik belt. Karnataka wines like Krsma don’t have it; Sette from Fratelli has been able to mask it in their premium blend. Rajeev concedes, ‘after year of experimentation and working with this varietal we have come to the conclusion that one cannot make cheap Cabernet Sauvignon- certainly not in the sub-Rs. 1000 range.’ Priced at around Rs. 1800 in the Mumbai market, it is now the most expensive Indian wine.
For more details on the visit to SulaFest this year click
SulaFest-Truly Fashionable Musical Event of 2015
Casablanca from Good Drop Cellars
Ashwin Rodriguez, the young wine maker with wine education in Australia has recently introduced Casablanca in his winery Good Drop Cellars in Vinchur Park, near Nashik. With the purpose of tasting at the hotel and have members chat with him, I invited him to come to the hotel on Sunday morning before checking out. But he got late and as we were getting for our appointment at the next stop, we took the bottles instead to York and promised to taste there.
Before entering York, I decided to take the group to have a look at the close-by Beyond Resort. This left everyone with one comment, ‘we want to come back next year o SulaFest but stay at Beyond- just like their predecessors. Not going to happen! The place is heavily booked and not available to outsiders on these two days. For every other day you may contact the resort directly.
Due to paucity of time, we could not also visit Somanda Winery, at the back of Beyond. Owned by Pradeep Pachpatil, former General Manager of Sula, he has a boutique winery, restaurant and banqueting facilities just in case you are planning a vineyard destination wedding. We may visit next time perhaps!!
Read more about Good Drop Cellars at Rodrigues: Sparkling Man from Rio and Casablanca
Any wine route/street cannot be complete without including York Winery in it. Being next to Sula (about a km towards Beyond on the same road), the place reminds one of Sula of yester-years. Being run by soft-spoken and humble brothers Ravi and Kailash Gurnani (an Alumnus of University of Adelaide) the winery has many firsts to its credit, including the first couple of crushes for Chandon sparkling wines, making wines for several other brands over the years including Turning Point currently and also bringing out their own York Brut this year. Again, the time was rather short and members could taste a few wines hurriedly and enjoy some grape stomping before rushing back to Sula for a taste of the excellent street food being sold at the SulaFest, on the way to the Mumbai Airport.
York has entered the Delhi market and is being distributed by Hema Connoisseurs.
The visit to Nashik was an event that would be described in the history of the Delhi Wine club simply as memorable.. But the detailed preparations required to make it happen would perhaps not be recounted anywhere!
For the previous visit to Nashik by the members of the Delhi Wine Club, click: DWC: Celebrating 10th Year in Nashik Vineyards