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SulaFest-Truly Fashionable Musical Event of 2015

Posted: Thursday, 26 February 2015 12:13

SulaFest-Truly Fashionable Musical Event of 2015

Feb 26: SulaFest, the two-day annual festival which has received international acclaim as the music and wine festival, was visited by about 11,000 people over Feb 7-8 converting Nashik into a Cosmopolitan City for two days, writes Subhash Arora who has personally seen it grow exponentially during the last 5 years with various partnerships taking it to a new high every year

Click For Large ViewIf Snapdeal.com can sponsor Big Boss or DLF can be a part of the IPL league title by parting with a sizable chunk of money, It’s not difficult to surmise that the enterprising Rajeev Samant, Founder & CEO, Sula Vineyards would have been sniffing around for the right partner to take this annual fun and frolic festival woven around music and wine (and other products promoted by Sula). Vero Moda, the fashion brand (Vero means truly and Moda is fashion or fashionable in Italian) partnered with it last year under a 3-year contract which entitles the event to be titled as Vero Moda presents SulaFest.

Aimed to entice the younger crowd, the partnership may have synergy. As a senior Sula staffer said, the fashion sense of the crowd had improved during last year and this year, the people seemed to be more fashionably dressed. The presence of several Vero Moda stalls and exhibitions of clothes must have created a visible impact on the visitors at any rate.

Musical partnership

A few editions ago, Rajeev perhaps realised that they needed a music partner to take the festival to newer heights and establish it as a music festival as well. He partnered with the well-known Mumbai-based blueFROG which has been creating an international buzz and has been adding popular foreign bands to the repertoire every year. This year’s line up featured  Young The Giant from California besides Will And The People, Nucleya, Yes Sir Boss, Speed Caravan, Swarathma and Cuban Beats All Stars which was my personal favourite. Of course, Lucky Ali was the true rock-star of the event and was the darling of the crowd that reportedly went ecstatic connecting with him.

Twinkling Tasting Room

Click For Large ViewTasting Room at Sula pre-dates SulaFest. At the leanest of periods it has several people sipping wine and welcomes over 15,000 guests every month on the average. It is a showcase of the increasing thirst for wine in Maharashtra. But during the festival it wore a highly invigorating, vibrant and chic look with almost no place to sit with the sea of humanity occupying every single seat including the Hardys stand where Nick Pringle, Director of Sales, Hardys (Accolade UK) had come from London specially to showcase his wines and was seen talking about the Aussie wines being imported by Sula. And this at One in the afternoon when I went to meet Rajeev at his plush office which gives the most gorgeous view of the vineyards and the amphitheatre!

‘The view is so nice and vibrant from here but when I am at the amphitheatre looking at all the visitors watching the performances and having a glass of wine, I am quite overwhelmed and wonder how we are able to pull it off so nicely every year- 'it’s a slightly scary thought,’ says Rajeev when he comes for the meeting. While waiting for him in the balcony outside his Click For Large Viewoffice, I did enjoy a glass of Seco Rosé sparkling wine which was formally being introduced at the fest. Till you compare it with the Sula Brut Rose which is an elegant wine made by double fermentation in the bottle like Champagne, the Seco is slightly sweet but fruity bubbly-oozing with strawberry flavours. But a word of advice to the wise- to have a re-look at the use of the term ‘Method Classique’ on the label! Made from infused carbonation to keep the freshness and charm the ladies at lower cost, this simple process of introducing bubbly stars to the liquid, may be open to criticism from several quarters, especially Champagne.

Pulling it off successfully

Pulling-off successfully Sula does! Every year without any major incident! No one under the legal age of 21 is allowed entry-the marshals and bouncers ensure that. No one seems to be drunk- at least excessively drunk. No ogling of women or men and certainly no lewd remarks noticed anywhere. It is commendable that no drugs are seen either. Having been to several musical concerts in California, which perhaps gave Rajeev the idea to recreate the concept in the first place, he turns very serious and says he has given strict instruction to watch out and anyone trying to consume drugs is ejected immediately.

It was amusing to see over 20 bouncers at one time, huddled together as if a meeting was taking place. Later, one of them told me that someone had apparently misbehaved because of excessive drinking and was being ejected quietly but forcefully, without creating a scene. To me, this is the best feature of the Show where young women can walk around without fear and enjoy the music, wine and bonhomie with or without their escorts or partners and with no fear of being harassed-a far cry in a city like Delhi or perhaps even Mumbai.

Truly national and international

Click For Large ViewI was pleased to meet Dr. B. Krishna, the Managing Director of the Karnataka Wine Board in the VIP Lounge getting a foot message which is one of the staple features at the event. He has organised several wine festivals in Karnataka and claims some of them have been attended by 20,000 people. He was quite impressed with the format and was candid enough to admit that he has picked up several ideas for the Bangalore wine festivals in future.

Delhi and Bangalore were not the only out- of- state cities represented at the fest. There were hundreds of expats that seemed to have landed-perhaps with the aid of drones, one of the models of which created a lot of interest amongst the revellers. It’s time perhaps to keep a tab on the nationality and the city of residence by registration at some point, to see how much depth the event has reached.  Some foreign visitors I met claimed to have planned their Indian visit, especially around the event.

One such visitor was Ravi Viswanathan who is otherwise a regular visitor to Sula now. A year ago, he had bought a sizable stake in Sula through his PE mutual fund in Singapore. Since he is part of the company now, he was quite defensive when I remarked that one thing that irked me personally at the fest was the presence of whisky and other hard liquor at the fest which had been earlier known to promote wine culture among the young through music. This addition was not there till a couple of years ago, making it reek of over-commercialisation of the event to me.

Not Wine and Music Alone

Click For Large ViewWhile Cointreau from their principals Remy Martin, has been a favourite of the crowd for years and Asahi beers are showcased for the same reason, Grant’s Whisky (distributed in India by Sula) seems to have made an appearance recently. Jack Daniel’s Whiskey is not even on their portfolio-neither is a vodka or Sierra Tequila being showcased in another stand.

Ravi justified the presence of those stalls and says, ‘let’s not forget that many people who want to come to this fest don’t drink wine. Why should they be excluded from the experience? And look at how aesthetically and beautifully the counters have been erected.’

Rajeev defended the concept unabashedly when I met him on Sunday. ‘I am not a purist in the sense that I would not be happy with working with wines alone. We are importing Asahi Beer and Grant’s Scotch Whiskey besides Cointreau, of course. Therefore, these stands are for promotion of our imported products. We did allow a few other stands as the people wanted to showcase their beverages.’ As one member of Indian Wine Academy Facebook page, commented, ‘Money talks!’ It appears at SulaFest it sings.

Gourmet World Music Festival-a misnomer ?

Click For Large ViewAnother visible change has been the trailing part of the title SulaFest-being referred to as a Gourmet World Music Festival. Starting with the promise of being another ‘Woodstock’ in the Sula backyard, the fest has not only had the title of Vero Moda added but the rather inapt ‘Gourmet World Music Festival’. No doubt there is an increasing impact of music from various international bands- 14 of them from 10 countries at this fest  is a testimonial to that. But with the increasing number of people gulping down what can generally be described as street food, it can hardly be a Gourmet’s delight.

Click For Large ViewBut the foodies do have a ball here-with food from Café Zoe, Woodside Inn, Maroosh, Busago from Mumbai and the recently launched Soleil by La Plage in collaboration with La Plage at Sula Vineyards. The well-known Ad Guru Prahlad Kakar who is a big (pun intended) foodie and engages cooking staff in his office, has helped a few of the staff to start ‘B & BBQ’ catering company and was seen busy collecting the coupons and attracting many of his fans to come and order food from his stand.

The dishes were so delicious that some of the members of the Delhi Wine club whom I had taken with me for the second time to SulaFest, were so fascinated by the Mumbai food that they insisted on going to the fest only for lunch on Sunday before leaving for the Mumbai airport to return to Delhi. An Italian member of the club refused to be dragged to stand in lines and eat the street food, while standing. He and many other wine lovers might take umbrage to call SulaFest a World Gourmet Music Festival. I second his opinion that SulaFest is a perfect title, label and the brand-prefixing Vero Moda or any other chief sponsor bringing significant amount of money to the table, notwithstanding.

Vision of 20,000 in 2020

Click For Large ViewThe number of visitors has been growing exponentially with a few hundred in the first year exploding to an estimated 10,000-15,000 this year. My estimate has been that in 2020 there would be 20,000 visitors. For the mathematics- oriented, this may be child’s play with an annual growth of less than 10% carrying it to the magic mark-even though there is potential for much bigger numbers. The logistics and various cost factors and pricing would gain more and more importance as the cost of tickets sky-rockets to Rs. 1900 this year from Rs. 800 three years ago! Food and drinks are not cheap and follow the business model of restaurants and the Duty Free Shops at the airports - a captive audience who is obliged to pay through the nose in the absence of any outside supply.

Click For Large ViewThere is the issue of sanitation, parking (it was chaotic to be obliged to park the cars about a kilometre away after paying Rs. 100 with no visible options for the drivers to eat). The mini-buses ferrying people seemed to have disappeared after the program was over. Traffic was a nightmare at times. The physically handicapped had no special treatment, as I found for one of our club members. One needs to walk almost 500 meters making it a true ‘Woodstock’ experience. Surely, these hiccups would need to be addressed as in the past but there are practical limitations and at some point the over zealousness may  become counter-productive to the main wine business.

But Rajeev has made the impossible possible in the past. There is no reason to assume he won’t be dreaming about 100,000 with the fest becoming a money earner and an independent profit center on its own. I would be happy to see the number at 20,000 and more efforts to get the music close-up time moved beyond the existing seemingly ridiculous timing of 1030 pm unless it is operative due to the Supreme Court directives in which case the local administration might have its hands tied.

Sula has been creating milestones for itself every step of the way. There is no doubt that SulaFest will become a nationally and internationally recognised event on the wine calendars, with or without the pre-fixes or suffixes and we will continue to partake every once in a while to let our hair down for two  days at the first weekend of February.

Subhash Arora

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Tags: SulaFest, Rajeev Samant, Sula, Vero Moda, blueFROG, Ravi Viswanathan

       

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