A three-day tour of wineries in Nashik treats Snigdha Bhowmick to award-winning vintages and riveting stories of vintners.
IT WAS MORE than a decade ago that my partner Sudipto told me about the vineyards and wineries emerging in Nashik, Maharashtra. I had scoffed at the idea then. Eventually, I was proven wrong as Nashik went on to become the ‘Wine Capital of India. with a multitude of wineries opening and creating award-winning vintages over the years.
But enthusiasts who make their way to these establishments for a taste of local vintages often lament that the Indian wine tourism industry lacks the structure of its western counterparts. That gripe may soon be a thing of the past. In March 2021, an experiential tour company called Indulge India introduced the country’s first winery trail. Indian Vine Trail is a three-day tour that takes you to six major wineries in Nashik, with sommelier Gagan Sharma leading the way.
THE BOUTIQUE EXPERIENCE
We started our trail at India’s first boutique winery, Vallonné Vineyards (vallonnevineyards.com). It is the brainchild of Shailendra Pai, who has drawn upon his two decades of experience in the wine industry. Vallonne’s focus on quality and hospitality makes it unique. The wines are born out of years of experimentation there is a rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon (commonly used for making high-quality red wines), and the dessert wine Vin de Passerillage is made along the lines of straw wine, where the grapes are dried in straw huts until each berry produces a single drop of juice. Although both of these wines lit up my palate, what impressed me the most was their prized offering, Anokhee-a Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with an oaky, buttery texture; its fruit flavours are balanced by hints of spice and dark chocolate. You can pair Vallonne’s vintages with South-East Asian cuisine at Malaka Spice, the restaurant that sits within the premises of the vineyard.
THE FRENCH WAY
Next on our itinerary was Grover Zampa (grover zampa.in). It was started in 1988 by Kanwal Grover, who on one of his numerous visits to France convinced the famous winemaker, George Vesselle, to visit India and create wines with him. Although the idea of growing French wine grapes in India was pretty crazy, he rose to the challenge and, together with Vesselle, established the first such vineyards in Bengaluru and Nashik. Under the leadership of his son Kapil Grover and granddaughter Karishma Grover, Grover Zampa’s La Réserve was named the Best New World Wine by Decanter magazine in 2005. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the 2015 vintage is a mouthful of red and black fruits with strong spicy overtones and medium-bodied, well rounded tannins, perfect for pairing with Indian dishes like kebabs and biryani. With a new cellar and tasting room on the horizon, the winery is slated to become one of the best wine hosting destinations in India, if not Asia.
A DATE WITH THE FINEST
Day two started with a visit to one of the pioneers in the Indian wine industry, Sula Vineyards (sulavineyards.com). Since its inception in 1999, Sula has come a long way. It is the most awarded wine brand in India and has made a name for itself in the international market. It is known for eco-friendly policies like reuse of waste water and solar powered farms. “More than 60 per cent of our energy needs are met through solar energy,” said vintner Karan Vaswani as he gave us a tour.
Sula has an extensive range of grapes andvintages; my favourites turned out to be the Dindori Reserve Viognier, with its aromatic notes of lychee, apricot, and peach, and the Rasa Syrah, which has a rich peppery taste and heady tannins.
Located just a couple of kilometres down the road from Sula is York Winery (yorkwinery.com).
The winery took its first steps in 2005 when Lilo Gurnani decided to dip his toes into the wine industry. Like a seasoned winemaker, he came up with “York’ by blending the names of his three kids-Yogita, Ravi, and Kailash. Kailash was studying oenology at the time in Australia and soon began to handle the winemaker duties at York. “The modern Indian winemaker is not blindly following the West, and is creating a unique, personal bouquet of flavours,” he said. His focus on new-world, fruit-forward-style wines brought him immediate rewards his very first vintage of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc won bronze at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Festival in 2012. Subsequent awards included a commendation at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards in 2015. In April 2021, York announced that it was going to merge with Sula and become a subsidiary, But it will continue to produce its magnificent Arros, another Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend, this time with some sweet, jammy notes accompanying the spices.
THE ITALIAN JOB
Our next stop was in the eastern part of Nashik, where the husband-wife duo of Yatin and Kiran Patil grow Italian grapes with distinct Indian characteristics. They are at the helm of the family-owned winery Reveilo (thehappyhigh. com). A chance encounter with Italian winemaker Andrea Valentinuzzi at Vinitaly 2003 an annual wine fair in Verona) led the couple to plant Italian vines over 100 hectares of relatively flat, clayey soil. There’s the fresh and crisp Grillo, and the Nero d’Avola with its dark berry flavour complemented by medium bodied tannins.
The railway station closest to Nashik is Nashik Road Railway Station. The nearest major airport is in Mumbal (170 km).
Indian Vine Trail includes visits to six wineries in the region, where you can meet the owners and see what goes behind making award wining wines. indulgeindia.com
Although I did lust after their Sangiovese, which impressed me with its bold and rich flavours, it was their dessert wine, the late-harvest Chenin Blanc, that stole my heart.
UNDERSTATED ELEGANCE Our last winery on the trail was Chandon India, which I first visited when it launched in 2016. Its understated elegance immediately stands out. The contemporary white building with a long verandah overlooking the vineyards offers the perfect place to sip on Chandon Brut as the sun sets behind mountains. It is a fruity sparkling wine made with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, and has nutty overtones. Don’t forget to try out the Chandon Rose, named as the Best Indian Sparkling Wine at The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2020. This pretty pink wine is an explosion of red fruit flavours, specifically fresh red cherries and strawberries, with a creamy texture.
As I came to the end of the Indian Vine Trail, I realised that it had offered me much more than the tasting and pairing of wines. It had also given me a story at every turn.