Sula Vineyards, in Nashik, is one of India's few vineyard getaways. We spend a weekend in this wine country, and find that not only are the fruity flavours intoxicating, but so is the natural setting
By: Kiran Mehta
Posted on: September 14, 2012
Sula Vineyards, in Nashik, is one of India’s few vineyard getaways. We spend a weekend in this wine country, and find that not only are the fruity flavours intoxicating, but so is the natural setting.
Acres and acres of budding vines. Calm waters in the distance. A heavy mist settling over lush fields. And this entire painting comes framed within jagged, jarring hills. As I caught my first glimpse of the gorgeous Sula estate, it seemed surreal. I almost couldn’t believe that this piece of paradise was just a short drive away from the maddening city of Mumbai. No deafening sound of horns and no hustle-bustle. Time seemed to stand still here. Yet, despite the calm, unhurried air, Sula kept me thoroughly entertained, right through the weekend, with its many enticing offerings. The eco-tours had me walking through the vines while the visit to the distillery made me come away feeling like a connoisseur. The wine pairing session and wine tasting classes completed my snob appeal while I simply calmed down sitting by the balcony of the tasting room and taking in the lush natural beauty. Little wonder that this vineyard is often dubbed as India’s very own Napa Valley.
A walk in the clouds
My Sula adventure begins by taking a stroll through the vines on a guided eco-tour. The mid-morning sun shines against the creepers and creates delicate patterns on the leaves. The air is crisp and fresh and I breathe in the earthy aroma of wet soil. I look up to find rolling hills in the distance. This is as close to nature as one can possibly get. And there could be few better ways to start the day than the eco-walking tour. The trail seems endless, and I blissfully follow the guide who is an ecologist.
She takes me from one walking trail to another, all the while talking passionately about the different types of vines, many with exotic sounding names like Zinfadel, Primitivo, Barbera and more. She also informs about the eco-friendly procedures that Sula follows, such as rain-water harvesting, chemical-free ozone-friendly fertilisers and natural forms of pest control. Overall, the tour is a pleasurable way to learn about vine management and to pick up a few technical terms that will surely advance you on the path to becoming a well-informed wine enthusiast!
Touring the distillery
A tutorial in wine-making would be incomplete without a walk through the distillery. As I enter the large shed that serves as the distillery, it seems intimidating with huge metal cylinders that almost touch the high ceiling. And each of these gigantic metal vessels is filled with delicious wine. The guide speaks of the various methods employed to distil, store and age the vines; the different types of barrels; the maintenance process and so on. Even though the technical knowledge is a lot to take in, it is here that one truly understands the enormous volumes of wine produced and distilled on this mammoth estate in the tiny city of Nashik.
Many consider Indian wines not as ‘prestigious’ as French or Italian wines. But Sula Vineyards assures that its wine-making process is as quality-conscious as any other international winery’s. Did you know that at Sula the grapes are not pressed too hard as they only want the best juice? Or that a blend of eight grape varieties is used in their Brut to give it a complex character? Usually wineries go for three maximum. Adding another milestone in its journey, Sula is the only Indian winery to grow and produce Reisling.
Know your wine
The vineyard holds wine tasting workshops where six different glasses of wine are placed in front of you. These fun blind tasting sessions seriously test the knowledge of wine tasters. Despite the fact that I am not very good at this guessing game, I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop largely due to its rather melodramatic quality. First we were taught exactly how to hold the wine glass by the stem. Next we held our glasses up to the light to study the colour and luminosity of the wine. Then we swirled the glass around and took a whiff. And finally it was time to sip the fruity spirit. And with a slight nod of the head, pass judgement over it! And since I am not a master of wines, yet, I learnt a thing or two through this mini tasting workshop!
Next I signed up for the pairing workshop. Do crunchy Indian pakodas (veggies wrapped in whipped gram flour and fried) go better with Cabernet Shiraz or Sauvignon Blanc? Do kebabs wash down well with Rosé or a sparkling wine? Are the flavours of spicy dishes brought out with red wine or white wine? Answers to these questions and more are what one discovers in the wine pairing workshop. For instance, I learned that white wines are a safe bet with most Indian food because they contain less tannin, making them easier on the palate. Whether you’re feasting on healthy dosas, or butter-laden parathas, white wine will complement the food. However, to really bring out the flavour of meat, opt for a glass of red. A Satori or a Dindori pairs well with spicy meat starters such as tandoori chicken or chicken tikka masala.
I downed different varieties of wines with a host of Indian munchies. While there are some basic rules to wine pairing, the sommelier insists that eventually one’s own palate is the best guide.
Sula provides varied cuisine options too. Choose between an Indian meal at Soma, an Italian meal at Little Italy or just head to the Tasting Room which is my personal favourite. Designed by Californian architects, this room boasts a blue-mosaic balcony bar which offers a 360 degree view of the vineyards, made even more spectacular in the monsoons. Just pack in a light jacket and watch the sun go down in the horizon.
The vineyard comes with its own intimate 32 room resort called Beyond. It offers cosy rooms with private balconies that open up to either a beautiful lake or a spectacular hill view. The resort also has its own swimming pool, an all-day dining restaurant and a spa. Don’t forget to book your visit to this vineyard in advance. The wine pairing and the wine tasting workshops must also be booked in advance.
If you are having the urge to escape city life, even if only for a bit, these vineyards are the perfect weekend destination. Enjoy, experience and learn a new culture – the wine culture. And if you can bring back only one bottle of wine, go for the Sula dessert wine, which is one of very few Indian sweet wines.