Well…what do we know about wines, you ask? We know how to drink them!!!
And that we thought was the only pre-requisite to making a trip to India’s top selling Vineyard, Sula, located in the very picturesque district of Nashik in Maharashtra barely 190 kms from where we live in India.
And we were right!
For as wine drinkers, all we really knew about wines was that we loved them, sometimes straight from the bottle – the Sula Zinfadel Rose being our favourite – and our knowledge about them ended there.
We had little or barely any insight on which wine goes best with what cuisine, the manner in which the glass is twirled before it is tasted, the manner in which we judge its potency or any of these… So going to a vineyard was not going to be very interesting for us. Other than sampling all their wines, of course!
But what did change our minds was the discovery that Sula does not merely sell you wines (at a neat 15% discount on their vineyards) they also take you through a wine tasting session where you get to learn a lot more about them than you did when you started out… The tour of the winery and the wine making process is just the icing on the cake..
So on a rather drizzly morning very recently we found ourselves driving to Nashik, armed with enthusiasm and the requisite notepad, camera, lenses etc…to capture the ‘spirit’ of the Vineyard.
At the Vineyard we were met by the company’s very able Marketing representative Swapnil who took us through a conducted tour of the site. As he walked us through the wine making process, he painstakingly explained to us how the quality conscious company has become not just the largest seller of wines in India, but also an exporter of premium wines to countries like France, Italy, USA etc.
We were shown the large tanks where the crushed fruit is allowed to rest as sediments formed therein are then removed, the oak barrels where the wine rests for fermentation in a room where the humidity levels are regulated though air conditioning as well as a sprinkler system and the bottling, labeling process that becomes the last stage of the production of these wines.
What we found most interesting however, was the rise of a fairly quality intensive industry such as wine making in the heart of an agricultural district. The success of Sula lay in the vision of its founder and CEO Rajeev Samant who brought the art of exquisite wine making to this district (acknowledging that its weather and soil were most suited for the growth of grapes) with the help of Master Winemaker Kerry Damskey.
Together they brought the famous French Sauvignon Blanc and Californian Chenin Blanc to Indian soil for the first ever Sula harvest.
After a brief run through of the history of the Vineyard, (you can read more about it on their website here) we were escorted to the tasting room where we had our first (and hopefully not the last) brush with the fine art of wine tasting starting with Sula Brut – a celebratory sparkling wine, that goes well with Indian food. Following this we tasted Sula Sauvignon Blanc, The Dindori Reserve Viognier (which was outstanding), the Mosaic Grenache Syrah Rose, the Satori Merlot Malbec and the Dindori Reserve Shiraz.
Phew! For someone starting out, that’s a lot to remember but the Sula Portfolio of their selections helped us earmark what we tasted and how we rated them.
We didn’t get to taste the Rasa their most premium red wine since it was out of stock. According to Swapnil, this wine is only produced from the best grapes of the harvest and thus only a few cases of the same were produced last year.
Since this was our first wine tasting session ever, we didn’t spit the wines after rolling them in our mouths (that we were told a true wine connoisseur would do)…we just drank ‘em all up! But when tasting, it is a good idea to ask for a spittoon especially if you intend driving back.
And if you are not driving back the very same day, but staying over at the Beyond (Sula’s very own resort) all we say is we are extremely envious… The Beyond is a great escape or weekend outing nestled as it is amidst Vineyards, with a breathtaking view of the mighty Godavari river. The rooms are not intended for budget travellers, but a tour of the winery and a wine tasting session are included in the room cost.
In addition to the Tasting Room (where guests can sample wines by the glass with select cuisine – or even cheese and chocolates) Sula boasts of two specialty restaurants – Pune’s very own veg Italian restaurant Little Italy and Soma, an Indian cuisine restaurant. We satiated our hungry palates at Soma where the menu is very extensive (including many diverse options for vegetarians), the taste authentic and service up to the mark.
Why we loved Sula!
The experience. The tranquility. The Wines.
But we also loved the concept of Sula – the manner in which the establishment of this industry gave employment opportunities to hundreds of youth from nearby villages; how they practice vermiculture and convert all the mulch from the wine-making process to organic manure, re-using it in their own vineyards; how they have helped re-invent the Indian wine and turned it into a world class product.
How does one enjoy Sula?
Our suggestion – sign up for a stay at Beyond, experience the Vineyard, the beauty of the surrounding areas, taste or drink all the wines you want, and enjoy a spectacular getaway that is unique in its experience. While Beyond has all the frills of a resort (including a spa), you will for most parts also enjoy the walks down narrow village roads in the adjoining areas, soaking in the beauty, peace and slow pace of rural Indian life.
Take a good book, a good camera, your iPod with all your favourite songs and soak in the experience at the Vineyard.
We would also suggest a weekday trip (for those who can manage time off) as opposed to a weekend trip if you want some quietude. Sula is extremely popular not just with individuals (with or without families) but also with hotel management students (who throng in large numbers).
With its ever-increasing popularity we’ve been given to understand that rooms at Beyond are virtually unavailable every weekend regardless of time of the year.
How to get there
The drive, through a rather narrow and overtly crowded state highway, is backbreaking from Pune. The 190 kms (on the Shirdi route) took us over 5 hours to reach the Vineyard. The fact that we had to cut across the entire bustling city of Nashik to reach Sula didn’t help in easing our travel woes.
Once inside Nashik, you need to find your way to the Trimbakeshwar Road (which is a highway that leads to the Trimbakeshwar temple) and about 8 kms straight down this road, you will arrive at a T-junction. The landmark on this T-junction is Papayaz, a nursery located on the right side. One needs to go straight from there about 200 mts before you have to take a right turn into an area called Shivaji Nagar. The Sula signboards also begin from here.
It is another 7 kms before you reach Sula, surrounded by farmlands, the river Godavari, the Gangapur Dam and the beautiful Sahyadris.
BIG PROBLEM – Driving from Pune to Nashik, the only ‘clean’ toilet (especially for women) is located in a highway eatery known as Vithal Kamat’s, a good 100 kms from Pune.
We were told that the drive from Mumbai (180 kms) is much better since the two cities are connected by a 4 lane expansive expressway and travel time is just about 3 hours. And you don’t have to traverse through Nashik to get to Sula when coming from Mumbai.
And oh…the route to Sula is well mapped on the GPS (we used Google Maps for most parts) so if you have a GPS, you’d be able to find your way fairly easy.
When to go
We made the trip in early September when the vineyards were stark and bore an unexciting look. The weather, however was stupendous with intermittent showers rendering the environ a hazy dewy cool cover.
We were told that January – March are the best months to visit the Vineyards when the harvest season begins. Guests are invited for grape plucking and crushing activities in addition to the usual tours.
The Sula Fest is conducted in February every year; a two-day event marked by wine (but, of course!), gourmet food and music (Live bands are invited to perform).
We will keep you posted about their activities through this site. So watch this space!
Reservations for Beyond can be made online on the official Sula website. The staff is also courteous enough to answer most queries on the phone (including giving you directions in case you are lost).