Winter is here and even sultry Mumbai has not been able to remain untouched by it’s pleasing touch. Unlike the north of India, winters in Mumbai are about hot afternoons but pleasantly cool mornings and evenings and if you too dread the cold like I do, it is just the right amount of winter you would need – warm enough to keep those bulky blankets and woolens at bay and cool enough to give a respite to fans and air conditioning.
Meanwhile, in the city of Nashik 170kms north west of Mumbai, it’s the season to harvest the year’s produce in the vineyards on the fringes of the city. In the last decade, Nashik has slowly but surely become the Napa Valley of India and Sula Vineyards, one of the earliest to jump on the wine bandwagon has probably played the biggest role in putting wine onto the taste palette of urban middle class India and further taking Indian wines to the global palette.
Now while every cool, urban thing was making a beeline for Sula and Sula Fest in Nashik, I had steadfastly held out against making the trip coz it just seemed way too mainstream for my offbeat soul. That was until I came across this article. Now call me prejudiced but in all that hoopla around Sula, it had never occurred to me that there could also exist boutique vineyards where one can lose oneself in the quaint charm of plantation life and soak in it’s timeless flavour. So, with my blinkers gone, a trip was quickly planned to the Napa Valley of India and here is our low down on the Sula and the other boutique vineyards of Nashik.
Sula : Taking wine tours to an industrial level
It is not hard to see why or how Sula has managed to remain the most popular destination for wine tours. With two restaurants (Little Italy & an Indian restaurant), a tasting deck overlooking the sprawling vineyard, the Gangapur lake in the distance and hills beyond, over 20 luxurious rooms for those who want to stay over, a gift shop and multiple instagram worthy art installations, Sula has something for everyone. In fact, Sula is visited by so many wine enthusiasts every day that their resident wine experts who conduct the standard wine tours (which is a round of the wine making unit, the wine cellar followed by a tasting session of six of their select wines) have to use a portable microphone to be able to be audible to the entire group. This makes the whole experience quite impersonal, sort of like visiting a museum on a school tour.
Standard wine tours in Sula are priced at INR 375 and are conducted every 45 minutes. You can of course opt for personalized tours for smaller groups or even VIP tasting which are conducted on prior request only.
Vallone Vineyard: This is what wine tours are made of
Situated on the road to Tribakeshwar, to reach Vallone, be sure to switch google maps on right when you turn left from Mumbai Nashik Highway towards Tribakeshwar because after a just few kilometers the mobile network disappears. Happened to us. We panicked coz there were hardly any other vehicles going that way and the few that we saw seemed to be headed for a pilgrimage to Tribakeshwar rather than to a wine tour. With no one around to ask for directions, we thought it best to drive ahead and hope to see a sign board for Vallone. Thankfully, the arrow on google maps kept moving quite possibly guided by GPS. After some 10 -12 kilometers, we finally came across a sign board that asked us to turn right, off the tar road into the muck filled mud road. We took a leap of faith and followed the sign through slushy depressions and uneven terrain to eventually reach the property at the edge of a lake.
They vineyard itself is small as Vallone does not itself grow all the grapes that it uses for producing wines – relying instead on selected local farmers. The property surrounded by farm land, has one restaurant by the name of Malaka Spice that serves finger licking South East Asian cuisine and just four rooms for guests who want to stay over. We did not stay in Vallone but I remember someone who had, told me that the rooms do not have television. No phone and TV – perfect for a weekend when you just wanna fall off the grid and spend sometime close to nature.
Because of it’s isolated location and low public awareness, not many people come to Vallone. After a scrumptious lunch of Pepper Prawn, Malaysian chicken curry and Roti Canai, we took the wine tour which began in the wine making unit in the basement included sampling of six of their select wines and ended in the wine cellar. We paid INR 300 per head and were the only two people on the wine tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the whole wine making process and unlike Sula, this particular wine tour was much more absorbing and informative.
Soma Wine Village: Great property but bad management
Soma is situated a little further along the road from Sula. The road to Soma is really picturesque and even though the photographs of the vineyard found online make it look dreamy, the place is not well maintained. We reached there at around 11 in the morning only to be repulsed by the sight of uncleared breakfast plates with crows feeding on left overs on the deck overlooking the vineyard. We left quickly without even thinking about taking a wine tour. Seemed like a great property that had become a victim of bad management.
Some other vineyards in Nashik that we could not visit but you might wanna try are:
- York Winery and Tasting Room – Situated mid way between Sula and Soma right at the end of the Gangapur lake, York definitely has the best location of the three. Can’t comment on the wine tour or the facilities available.
- Grover Zampa Vineyard
- Charosa Vineyard
Best Time to Visit:
The best time to visit the vineyards of Nashik is during the harvesting and crushing season in January end and February. This is when the vineyards are buzzing with activity and one can actually watch the raw grapes being processed into wine. This is also the time that various events are organized in the vineyards – the most popular of this is the Sula Fest which besides grape crushing includes performances by many well known musicians and artists.
Another good time to visit could be the monsoons when grape cultivation or crushing does not happen but vineyards nestled in velvety green fields and hills and the surrounding lakes brimming with water make for an alluring sight. So just grab a chair and some sparkling wine on the deck of any of the vineyards and sit back and enjoy the sight of dark grey clouds crowding the crest of the hills one moment and the golden sun piercing through and setting the lake water ablaze the next.
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