A drive down wine country in India
As I travel I think of the wines I have enjoyed over the years; the ups and downs of the wine industry in India; the fall of biggie Indage, the rise of Sula – and the fact that it all happens in Bangalore and Nashik. Nashik is perhaps one of the most important cities of northern Maharashtra at a height of above 2,000 feet above sea level. It lies at the head of the main pass of the Western Ghats, and is surrounded by the Sahyadri mountain range in the west, Vani and the Chadwal hills in the central areas and Kalsubhai hill range in the southern area. Smaller ranges like the Salher-Mulher, Ramsej, Ajneri and Ankai-Tankai hills give this mountainous region its distinct characteristics --- characteristics that have helped create a novel industry.
The holy Godavari attracts pilgrims from far and wide to its banks. Nashik is also one of the venues for the famous Kumbh Mela. Apart from that it is also home to an ancient temple at Trimbakeshwar. Moreover, Lord Ram himself is believed to have spent some time here while in exile.
Tempting as all this history & mythology is, it was actually the grapes and vineyards of Nashik that beckoned to the wine lover in me.
Although the soil of Nashik has been conducive to the growth of grapes and agricultural yields (the highest in the country for years), it was Sula Wines which broke the mold by establishing wine-making varietals in Nashik. Of the 23,000 hectares designated for grape growing, today only a thousand is being utilized for wine grapes. The potential is huge and with time, volume and quality shall increase and hopefully, prices will decrease. Notably Dindori and the hills of Igatpuri with its rolling hills and valleys and clean monsoon rain contribute for quality vineyards. Some of the vistas and the setting sun make it almost magical that you forget the country gravelly roads.
As a wine tourist destination, there are droves heading to the vineyards on the weekends and it’s the drive that makes it worthwhile. Several of the wineries have set up wine bars on their properties, and some like Sula have even built resorts like “Beyond” so that one can relax in an atmosphere of peace and calm and with an ethereal feeling. The Sula property is welcoming and you are well taken care of. As for the wines themselves, the Sula whites and roses, and their sparkling wine make for some excellent sampling and definitely go well with the spiciness of the cuisine of the region. But what is sad is that they don’t serve Indian food with the wine. How is one to learn to pair it with Indian fare? One hopes the idea catches on, making the already incredible experience more “complete” in a way.
Vineyards like Mercury (Aryan Wines), Renaissance, York are now doing some good wines. On the downside, however, several have shut shop like Terroir wines with their property overlooking an expansive view, while Zampa, their neighbour, is planning a resort on the top of the hill. Being partial to white wine, I found the Chenin Blanc and the Sauvignon varietals to be good. I tried a decent Muscat varietal by Aryan wines - smooth and sweet on the palate. I find the wine tours cumbersome and expensive especially if it’s a large group. I prefer being by myself, be it in the vineyards with the grapes or with my glass of wine swirling in the glass flirtatiously.
Ganesh Lunch Home at Gole Colony has a housewife who dishes out some typical Maharashtrian fare, rather spicy and full of peanuts and Modern Café on Gangapur Road served a decent meal too. The markets are fresh with greens and vegetables as organic as possible. But one of my best meals was at The Gateway Hotel run by the Taj. The Maharashtrian food has a slight twist to it but the comfort of time and space is a luxury one can enjoy while on holiday. The Gateway is a colonial style building with wide porticos and comfortable lodgings surrounded by plenty of greenery. What keeps it going is the genteelness of the staff and excellent service of a well maintained company.
Wine as destination point is not only educative but quite exploratory and one needs to take in the ambience, the friendship of it all and enjoy the peaceful nature of the place.