Have you too watched the Meg Ryan starrer French Kiss and fantasized about visiting a vineyard — whiffing in the sweet aromas of flavours induced in the plantation and swirling a glass of the finest while overlooking endless rows of green pastures. Alas! If France is a destination that requires planning and time, then you could live this fantasy while in India, barely 3 hours away from the city.
Situated in Maharashtra’s city of Nashik, also dubbed as India’s largest grape-growing region, Sula Vineyards is a haven for wine connoisseurs. Picture this: 35 acres of greenlands, rows of vineyards, state-of-the-art hotel stay and unlimited supply of wine that spoils you for choice. This is exactly what makes Sula Vineyards your perfect weekend getaway! A brainchild of Stanford-trained engineer Rajeev Samant, Sula is now one of the largest seller of wine in India, and, in fact, the first Indian brand to market wine as ‘drink for all’.
A Quick Recap
In the early 90’s, Rajeev envisioned of starting a wine-making business at par with international standards. A little research showed that Nashik was perfect for growing wine grapes, and climatic composition similar to winegrowing regions in Spain, California and Australia. Armed with this preliminary knowledge, he collaborated with Kerry Damskey, an eminent Californian winemaker, to dive deeper into the subject.
The duo took the revolutionary step of planting French Sauvignon Blanc and Californian Chenin Blanc varieties that had never before been planted in India. This was back in 1997. The first Sula wines were released in 2000, and widely acclaimed as India’s best white wines. Since then, there was no looking back. The varietals planted included Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Merlot along with Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Riesling. In the 2000’s they expanded in the nearby Dindori area to produce Dindori Reserve Shiraz, as well as India’s first dessert wine — the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc.
Besides its wine production, Sula also offers to educate so-called ‘lay people’ on the nitty-gritty of wine making by providing a guided tour of the property and showcasing the process of how each variety is made. The Tasting Room invites visitors to enjoy their favourite Sula wines amidst spectacular views of vineyards and the surrounding lake. The main property also includes an amphitheatre, which is let out for social gatherings. Here is also where all the SulaFest buzz happens.
SOLEIL by La Plage
Lending a truly French ambience is SOLEIL by La Plage, India’s most iconic French restaurant and a magnet for food lovers in Goa. Delectable food, quirky ambience with pops of colour and swift service is something you’d love to indulge in when you’re at Sula Vineyards.
Talking about indulgence, Beyond by Sula is a 35-room getaway resort (around 3-km from the vineyards), where you can further soak in the flavoursome environs. Beyond offers a selection of rooms, each with a private balcony overlooking a beautiful lake and nearby hills. The curvy walkway leads you to this destination that literally is a Pandora’s Box. You may ask why? This is because leading to reception and a quick glance gives you so much to look forward to.
The highlight of this property is the inner courtyard brightly lit by a skylight. This rectangular space is just 10% of the greenery you will witness here. Take a left and you reach the garden, armed with an infinity swimming pool and daybeds. Café Rose, an all-day dining restaurant, gives a clear view of this garden and offers healthy and nutritious food with a bunch of ingredients hand-picked from Sula’s organic farms.
Spa by Touché
In terms of amenities, Beyond has two spaces – White Room and Red Room – that cater to big groups. While the White Room is a conference hall with AV equipment, perfect corporate get-togethers; the Red Room is a break-out zone with indoor games. The gymnasium overlooks the infinity pool, vineyards and lake. After a workout, if you feel like having a nice massage, then Spa by Touché is perfect with modern massage rooms, a Jacuzzi and exclusive services. After soaking in some wine, the aromatic oils relax the senses.
With such greenery around, it is no doubt that environment conservation is a focus at this property. The vineyard is powered by solar panels, rainwater harvesting and hotwater tanks. Interesting fact, each row of the plantation has rose plants at the start line. This is because withering roses bring attention that that row is not going to give a good crop, and needs attention to avert it.
Raising the Bar
Winemaking is a growing business and needs constant innovation. As aforementioned, the Dindori variety is an addition to an already established business. They’ve also come up with the Rasa variety. That aside, the Grapeseed oil is another product that is gaining attention. The first to introduce grapeseed oil in the market, Sula showcases the versatility of it by using it for food served at the in-house restaurants as well as for massages at the spa.
Know your Wine better
- See: Hold the glass up to the light and look at the colour and opacity of the wine. The descriptions often used for assessing the colour of the wine can be pale, mid or deep, green/straw/yellow/gold for white wines, and pink/ purple/ crimson/ ruby/ garnet/ tawny/ brown for red wines. A healthy wine should reflect light and be bright.
- Swirl: Swirling takes a little practice, so don’t be alarmed if at first you splash the wine around more than you’d like. Place two fingers on either side of the stem, and make small circles with the base. Observe the wine as you swirl it; the more it sticks to the sides of the glasses, the more viscous it is. This is a rough indication of a more full-bodied style that has a high alcohol or sugar content, or both. Swirling allows the wine to breathe.
- Smell: This is arguably the most important factor in the sensory evaluation of a wine. A wine can display a variety of different aromas such as fruity (citrus, berry, tropical), floral (jasmine, rose, orange blossom), spicy (black pepper, cinnamon, anise), woody (oak, vanilla, toast), mineral, vegetal and so on.
- Sip: Take a sip or two of the wine and swirl it in your mouth to evaluate the wine.
- Spit: This is totally optional and is suggested just when you are having a wine for the first time. The aftertaste is what helps your evaluate the flavor better.
Sula Vineyards is one perfect example where the vision and passion of one man led to an enterprise that has inspired many others. It has brought wine to our living rooms and continues to raise the bar!
A FMW Production
Story by: Esther Cabral | Photographs: Courtesy Sula Vineyards