Nashik has been the wine country of India for more than two decades. However, we found a hidden gem in the lap of Akluj that offers an escape to tranquillity and recreation
By: Nikita Vivek Pawar
Posted on: April 7, 2021
LF Says: ★★★★
Wine tasting is a rich experience, a symphony of tastes and textures, where a seasoned wine taster recognises the nuances of a fine wine and imparts that wisdom so. However, this mastery is not going to be confined to a few for long! The wine industry has slowly but steadily gained momentum in India, with wine tasting becoming a common form of luxury experience. And Fratelli Vineyards has played a crucial role in the upliftment of the vino industry. Fratelli Vineyards (where Fratelli translates to 'brothers' in Italian) is a result of a collaboration between the Secci brothers from Italy and the Sekhri and Mohite-Patil brothers from India.
Fratelli Vineyards is not situated in the wine country of India, Nashik, but in a secluded yet scenic region located on the right bank of the Nira River in Akluj near Solapur, Maharashtra. A perfect destination to get away from the hustle of the city, yet highly accessible, this vineyard produces over 12 different and unadulterated wines, from Chenin Blanc to Chardonnay and from Shiraz to Merlot. The estate is the first Indo-Italian wine of India and the largest privately owned wine estate in the country with over 240 acres of vineyards divided into three sections. "In totality, we grow 12 varieties of grapes at Fratelli: 5 Whites (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muller Thurgau & Gewürztraminer) and 7 Reds (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Marselan),” said Abhishek Naik, Senior Manager, Marketing at Fratelli Vineyards.
The drive to Fratelli was relatively simple and easy. A mere 3-hour drive from Pune, Maharashtra, the vineyard envelopes you with scenic beauty, unparalleled hospitality and exquisite wines. The Fratelli Vineyards Guesthouse can be described as grandeur in simplicity and luxury in modesty. The first sight of the guesthouse was astonishing with ample vineyards on one side, farms on the other and a massive factory at the back. The geography of the location and the weather elevated our moods.
At the driveway of the guesthouse stands an old Jeep which instantly caught my eye, longing to take a ride in it. The Jeep was gifted to the guesthouse by one of the partners. The tasting room is on the left, with a beautiful lawn dividing the guesthouse and the factory. The huge distilleries had me in awe and wonder. Behind the tasting room, is the play zone, equipped with a carom board, foosball, badminton and cricket kits.
A spiral wooden stairwell leads to the upper level, where there are only six yet luxurious guest rooms. Every room has the view of the estate’s vineyards – a sight to behold throughout the day! The hardwood floor, ceiling-to-floor curtains and vintage cupboards and chests create a rustic decor. Greeted with welcome Gran Cuvee glasses, I was soon escorted to the drawing area for lunch. The drawing area is concise yet comfortable. A billiards table and a living area with coffee table books completes the look. The open kitchen tempts you for their scrumptious preparations. The food at Fratelli is as delicious and welcoming as the wines they make. What took me by surprise was the fact that the staff of five at the guesthouse not only maintain the guesthouse and vineyards tour, but are exemplary cooks too!
The vineyard tour
What sets Fratelli apart from other winery estates is the scenic beauty that it offers. Mornings at Fratelli are a sight to behold with a wakeup call from the chirping birds to the crispness in the air, and it just keeps getting better throughout the day. It was an exhilarating experience to cycle through the vineyards allowing the vines to be a perpetual companion through the ride. As the estate has three sections of vineyards, the most extensive, 170 acres of the vineyard has a Machan (raised platform) used for recreation and wine tasting sessions. While the Machan journey isn't the most comfortable, the views make up for it – quite arguably the highlight of my trip! A splendid sunset and breathtaking views of the stretches of vines made wine tasting an out-of-this-world experience. Our wine taster for the evening, Mr. Utkarsh Bhavsar, assistant winemaker at Fratelli, explained, in brief, the process right from the grafting of the vine to the bottling. Due to the pandemic, the establishment couldn't give us a factory tour, but the glass walls helped get a glimpse of the entire process.
In 2006, after a lot of inspection, the grasslands of Akluj were selected by Piero Masi, the chief viticulturist and winemaker at Fratelli. Blessed with perfectly nutrient-poor and highly mineral soils and combined with the temperate Maharashtrian climate, Fratelli can produce wines that showcase varietal purity and playfulness. The estate employs over a thousand women from across the neighbouring villages creating employment and opportunity.
The differentiating factor between wines from India and abroad are the terroir (a combination of climate, soil and other environmental factors), due to which the taste of the wine is determined. "Wineries in India don't stick to rules or traditions as strictly as older winemaking countries or the countries from the Old World (European winemaking countries) do. Instead, India follows the New World winemaking style, which is more experimental and technologically-oriented," Mr. Naik said. With fewer laws regulating winemaking, it is easier for the winemakers in India to plan their harvest, adapt winemaking methods, and modernise technology as much as they like.
Wine tasting is an experience that elevates your senses. With every new wine, you are wiser. And wine tasting is for everyone, from beginners to the connoisseurs of wines. For our wine tasting session at Fratelli, I was presented with three different red wine varieties – Shiraz Rose, Cabernet Franc Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A step by step tutorial of tasting the wine helped me understand its notes and nuances better. With time and numerous subsequent tastings, you develop a palette that understands the various hints and clues the wine gives away.
Mr. Bhavsar thoroughly explained the four S's of wine tasting: Sight, Swirl, Smell, and Sip. He helped us understand the notes of the wines from their colour, smell and taste, and the appropriate way of tasting wines. "Each wine one tastes has a story to tell. And each story is unique and interesting, leading to interesting conversations, and that is what makes wine tasting enthralling to me. The flavours and conversations that it embodies is what makes me love wines," exclaimed Mr. Naik.
My recommendation would be the Fratelli SETTE (7 in Italian), the flagship wine variety from Fratelli, a supreme blend of the Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sangiovese provides essence with distinct raspberry and violet notes and vibrant acidity. In contrast, with its blackcurrant notes, Cabernet Sauvignon provides the backbone to SETTE, giving it a fruity character and an elegant structure. The wine is aged in French oak barrels for 14 months. "SETTE does hold a special place in our hearts as it was a product of the passion and love of the seven promotors of Fratelli and was launched in the year 2012, with the first vintage (year of harvest) being 2010."
Fratelli Vineyards offers a splendid scenic setting, undistinguished hospitality and a winery experience to behold. Every part of the vineyard is warm, tranquil and welcoming, making it an excellent destination for wine connoisseurs to romantic getaways alike. Telling us about the future, Mr. Naik said, "One of the common sayings at Fratelli is that it is one thing to beat the competition but very difficult to beat yourself. With this in perspective, our focus is always on making every vintage better than the previous one."
LF Says: ★★★★
Coordinates: Gate No. 131, Zanjewadi Taluka, Malshiras, Dist Solapur, Maharashtra, India