July 30, 2013
A Stanford graduate, Samant returned to his home state of Maharashtra bringing with him a distinctly Californian vision of a winery open to the public. He planted his first vines in 1997 in Nashik, 180 km outside Mumbai, and grew to become the man who sparked a wine revolution with his brand Sula.
Samant’s vineyard innovation was well-timed and coincided with a sharp rise in India’s spending power. As he slowly grew the brand – known by its smiling moustachioed sun logo – those in prosperous Mumbai developed a taste for viticulture and got to grips with corks, vintages and grape varieties. Others, like the family-run York Winery and Valle de Vin, followed suit, and then Sulafest – an annual festival held at the Sula vineyards – really cemented the trend by attracting many of Mumbai’s keenest wine drinkers, bands and DJs.
Local labels like York and Sula – which can be found in London’s top curry houses, like Moti Mahal – have been recognised internationally and have won awards in France (Sula’s Rasa Shiraz 2007 won the Silver Medal at Syrah du Monde 2010). Naturally, this has helped to fuel a greater appreciation for viticulture, which motivated Sula to open its first wine bar in Mumbai, Vinoteca by Sula.
To fully appreciate this burgeoning trend, it’s a good idea to leave Mumbai behind and travel about 100 miles northwest to Nashik’s cellar doors, home to some of the best Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel plantations in India. Be warned though, this is no Napa. Tropical mangoes, guava and onion plants share the fields with enormous water buffalo and it is generally steaming hot (combined with cool nights, optimum wine-country weather, in fact).
Sula was the first vineyard in India to offer tastings and today has a sparkly new 32-room resort on-site too, called Beyond (complete with a spa and a chill-out room). Winery tours run daily, except for “˜dry’ days, which are mainly national holidays and conclude at the 34-foot long bar, overlooking the vines below. Rumour has it that Sula has very recently partnered with none other than Remy Cointreau, who are looking to tap into the Indian market – showing just how far the Indian wine scene has come.
Just down the road at York Wines, daily tours of the winemaking process also run and conclude at the tasting room (don’t miss their gold medal Reserve Shiraz). For real atmosphere, try to visit during the harvest and crush season, between January and March. Lastly, for something closer to home check out Soul Tree who are working hard at putting Indian wine on the map in the UK and now distribute their own Nashik-bottled wine across 200 different restaurants in the UK.
Header photo: Sula Vineyards © Caroline Eden
Would you consider a wine tasting experience on your next trip to Mumbai? Have you been to any of these Indian wineries? What did you think?