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Wine Tourism: Sula leads the Way

Posted: Saturday, 28 May 2016 11:19

 

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Wine Tourism: Sula leads the Way

May 28: When barely 5 vintages old, Sula started a Tasting Room in the winery in 2005 when other producers were talking about survival or brushing aside suggestion of wine tourism as non-productive; it never looked back, adding various features to attract wine tourists of all ages, making Sula a leader in wine tourism also by miles and globally one of the most successful destinations, writes Subhash Arora who believes tourism ought to be an integral part of a winery set up in India to improve the branding and bottom line

Click For Large ViewWine tourism and consequent sales at the cellar door was not unknown to the California-returned Rajeev Samant and the day he felt the business was somewhat established, he built a  basic tasting room in the winery where, if I remember correctly, one could taste 4-5 wines for Rs.100 only and it had a capacity of around 20 seats.Today, it has been expanded to 160 seats (thanks to the Kumbh Mela last year that was expected to bring hordes of tourists on pilgrimage but due to administrative apprehensions turned out to be a whimper).  One could taste wines and stand on the balcony facing the beautiful vineyard parcel which was originally the family orchards when Rajeev Samant, CEO and Director of Sula founded the winery.

Earlier this month Sula was awarded by The Drinks Business for ‘Best contribution to Wine and Spirits Tourism’. This award recognizes global wine and spirits companies' efforts to draw customers to a unique tourism experience. It goes without saying that Sula is the first Indian winery to be so recognised.

An amphitheatre, two restaurants, SulaFest and an expanded Tasting Room, Wine Shop, separate Sula Merchandise, Beyond by Sula Resort followed gradually-resulting in the visit of over 230,000 visitors and the sale of 15,000 cases of wine from the Cellar Door.

Winery Visits

Click For Large ViewI have often visited the Tasting Room at Sula, but was impressed when I visited this one on the ground floor for visitors. One side opens into the winery from where the groups enter the area for the final stop to taste wines at the end of the visit. At the other end of the room there is a display of a 12 foot replica of the Sula Brut Tropicale bottle and a long bar-styled top to serve the wine flights.

There was a group of about 20-25 people belonging to the ‘300 million strong Indian middle class’, including a few children playing around and their mothers chasing them and admonishing them in Marathi and Gujarati while men were at the bar tasting with the bartender. What pleased me immensely was the atmosphere that was informal and akin to visiting a museum,  or a science fair where the guide explains to you and the family listens intently but the kids are not bothered but happy to be on an outing.

Monit Dhavale, Vice President Hospitality says, ‘we take groups of up to 25 –starting at 11.30 am till about 6:30 pm. Each tour takes about 20 mins followed by Tasting of about 20-25 min in the Tasting Room which is where the tour ends. A winery visit with tasting of 5 wines costs only Rs. 250. The tour and tasting of 6 premium wines such as Dindori Reserve Shiraz, Rasa, etc with the winemakers costs you Rs. 350 only.‘It’s an excellent value because you get to meet a winemaker and taste with him and ask him any questions. You could meet Ajoy Shaw-the Chief Winemaker with 15 years experience in the winery or any of the other winemakers. In any case, the tour guides are WSET or Sula internal exam qualified.

Click For Large ViewLast year about 230,000 people visited the winery. ‘We lost potentially about 20,000 because the administration had increased the dry days during the Kumbh Mela that was expected to have added several numbers to the visitors. They can buy products from the wine shop and a merchandise shop, both on each side as you exit the tasting room- very smartly designed for impulse buying too. One could climb one flight of stairs and go to the Tasting Room for some more wine and delicious food, tapas style.

I saw around 60-70 people in different groups sitting upstairs; even met someone from Delhi who had attended one of my wine appreciation evenings and was visiting Sula with his young wife and a baby in arms. Piping hot snacks were coming from the kitchen adjoining the tasting room. People were drinking by the glass or the bottle depending on the size of the group. The sunset yonder added to the unique ambience and a beautiful setting that egged you on for another glass. A perfect example and setting of a busy wine bar.

‘The Tasting Room gets full every evening’ says Monit as we sit down to taste a few experimental wines-the wines that have not been released yet or maybe still not bottled. There are a few wines that are sold primarily in the Tasting Room only. Riesling at around Rs. 800 a bottle is one of the best seller whereas a Chenin Blanc Reserve and the Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve are limited quantity releases.

A sale of around 15,000 cases a year from the Tasting Room makes this a profit center and comparable to one of the ‘Top Ten wineries’ in its own right. Although the wines are sold at retail price, a majority of the sale is in the premium segment, making the bottom line more attractive than for most wineries selling higher quantities of lower ended wines.

Catching them fresh and young

Rajeev Samant claims that Sula gets the highest number of people who have the first experience of wine, but he has no records or means of proving it. I had a flash idea when I tasted the new white Muscat, one of the new experimental wines. It was sweeter than off-dry, full of pineapple and passion fruit and extremely juicy and delicious though simple. It could be made even more fragrant by adding a small quantity of another aromatic variety like Gewürztraminer. With around 40 gms sugar/l it is a bit too sweet for many wine drinkers but perfect for a novice.

What if this wine could be offered with compliments of Sula for tasting to the first-time wine drinkers? With a 15-30 mL size serving it would not cost the company much but in lieu, they could ask the customer to give in writing, their details. An invitation to send them a picture of their taking the first-ever sip (they might treasure it someday). There could be a lucky draw for those participating in the scheme for free merchandise. In return, Sula would not only have the records of the first timers (for Guinness Records), it would have also have a database and would have created several loyal followers forever, with the fruity wine which is available only in the Tasting Room. Imagine the buzz it would create in the industry!!

An experiment worth trying-even by reinforcing with a Riesling if there is unprecedented rush.

Wine Tourism beyond Beyond

It’s now an open secret that the nationally and internationally popular resort ‘Beyond by Sula’ will be no more with Sula beyond June 30 this year. A very important aspect of wine tourism promotion, ‘Beyond by Sula’ resort was inaugurated in 2007-the building was leased from Pradeep Pachpatil who owns Soma Vine Village now. delWine was the first one to do a story on this changeover. This will impact the business and somewhat the bottom line of Sula (Soma Vine Village will continue running it after refurbishing and the rooms will be available). But knowing the business acumen of Rajeev, he may negotiate a deal with Pachpatil, like perhaps a few rooms en-masse to ensure that the Sula Beyond loyalists are not disappointed till its own Resort is ready.

The construction of a small boutique resort is already underway, though it is not clear how long it will take to come up. There is also a plan to construct a few tree houses in the vineyard facing the tasting room. There is also a move to convert the old winery into a Heritage hotel

Little Italy and Soma are back

Click For Large ViewLife seems to have come full circle since the tourism got a boost after Soma (Indian Cuisine) and Little Italy (vegetarian Italian by a domestic chain) were added to the tourist complex. They are back- Soma (this has nothing to do with Soma Vine Village) with the old caterer Kalra joining the Indian culinary offerings had already been booked out to a group for a party the evening I was there, whereas Little Italy will start within a few days

Unfortunately Soleil Restaurant had to be shut down after the unfortunate demise of Chef Morgan who was generally looking after the restaurant and shuttling between Goa and Nashik. ‘We had to opt for an Indian Restaurant because there has been an exponential growth in the number of foreign visitors who prefer Indian food whereas the local people and many of the visitors from Mumbai are vegetarians and therefore Little Italy works for us,’ says Monit.

SulaFest

The amphitheatre is getting more and more popular with visitors and guests who rent it for private events, besides Sula hosting several events. Weddings in the vineyard use this facility more frequently now. But the biggest event held here is the SulaFest which is steadily increasing in popularity. With around 12000 people using the facilities in 2016, the place is now bursting at the seams during the annual event dubbed the Woodstock of India by delWine.

Apparently, the biggest strain is caused by the acts of Bollywood performers. Next year is the 10th edition and will have challenges for Sula as it would like to make it special and more people are expected to attend. A bigger crowd may be more difficult to manage than the million-case plus sale of wines during the current fiscal year. One possibility would be to extend it to 3-days, if only for this edition, starting with Friday evening performances.

We shall keep a watch on the progress and shall inform our subscribers through this section. The company will do well to make some special arrangements for foreign visitors who plan to come. They may not be the first time wine drinkers but many of them would be first time visitors to India and Nashik. Great opportunity to build global goodwill for the long term!

What’ new Pussycat

Monit Dhavale sums up the progress in taking wine tourism to higher levels, as he states, ‘Rajeev has a simple brief for me. He says that every visitor coming after a gap of 6 months must see and experience something new. We have planted palm trees alongside the long road that brings you to the complex from the main road. We have grown flowers all around the vineyards’. They were blooming and smiling as I left the winery on that road, to return at a later date.

Subhash Arora

Comments:

 

Subhash Arora Says:

Great News, Rajeev. An additional Friday seemed me to be the only logical solution. Many of my readers overseas have also told me they plan to attend. Here's to a great 10th SulaFest-Jai Ho!! Subhash

Posted @ Jun 04, 2016 11:15

 

Rajeev Says:

Nice article Subhash! You and your readers will be pleased to know that we have decided to extend Sulafest to Friday evening for our 10th edition! And we promise a real humdinger! See you all there and Jai Ho!!

Posted @ Jun 04, 2016 10:22

 

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Tags : Sula, Rajeev Samant, The Drinks Business, SulaFest, Beyond by Sula Resort, Sula Brut Tropicale, Monit Dhavale, Ajoy Shaw, Beyond by Sula, Pradeep Pachpatil, Soma Vine Village, Soma, Little Italy,
Soleil Restaurant, Nashik

       

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