After giving a brief outlook of the Indian wine industry which goes back to around 1500 BC according to the description in our Vedas, the modern day tourism started with baby steps in the nineties. Unknown to many people, Champagne Indage which was formed in the mid eighties by Sham Rao Chougule, sold its first bottle of Marquee de Pompadour as Omar Khayyam in London as it was an export-oriented project.
History of wine tourism
Before the end of the millennium, Chougule and his family started a wine bar called Athena outside the winery in Narayangaon which I had the pleasure of visiting several years back with Sham Chougule. One could taste all the wines that had been in production then and have food at this bar at reasonable prices. He narrated to me instances of farmers coming to Athena and trying out the new ‘sharaab’ introduced by this industrialist from Mumbai.
If one was lucky, he could be taken inside the winery as I was, but no cameras were allowed. As Chougule told me, he was concerned that some winery secrets might be leaked out. Those were the early days of wine tourism- almost equivalent to the first model of IBM computer.
Unfortunately, the company went under due to several reasons. The mantle was worn by Sula Vineyards. Rajeev Samant had studied in California and knows the philosophy of openness of wineries and started a Tasting Room in 2005. This was the foundation of wine tourism in India, as Arora pointed out to the audience.
Sula the Pioneer of modern wine tourism
Though many other producers wanted to follow his footsteps, they were half-hearted as they did not visualise the importance of opening up their cellar door to wine tourists. Many of them had fallen into financial crisis in the early days and had to put their plans on the back burner. But Rajeev went on building an amphitheatre to attract people from Mumbai and Nashik for musical soirees, plays or cultural events, opening restaurants at the winery some of which did not work.
He also initiated SulaFest in 2008 to capture young music lovers into the wine-fold. He even leased an agri-turismo on the vineyard-Beyond by Sula that became nationally famous. In fact, the lease is about to expire in June 2016 and the property is being taken over by the owner Pradeep Pachpatil who has built a small winery beyond the ‘Beyond’ and has conceptualised the project based on wine tourism, rather than the other way around.
Proposed Wine Routes
Many people show interest in visiting Indian wineries. There is no organised sector barring a few people who have started the business of wine tourism and offer several packages. No formal wine routes or wine roads have been chalked out by the government or the wine producers. Everyone has been making efforts individually with Sula being the most successful player; the wine tourism facilities including the Tasting Room and the several events that take place regularly, have been made a separate profit center. To make things simpler and more efficient, I have proposed the defined 4 wine routes (or roads, if you will). These are only based on the facilities and interest of the winery owners at the moment. They would certainly become rusty within a few years and need formalisation. Until the government and/or producers come up with official routes, here is what I suggested for the foreign tourists who like to visit some wineries: Visit Gallery for details.
Route 1: Mumbai-GroverZ-Vallonne-Sula-York-Soma(five wineries)
Start from Mumbai/airport and head straight towards Nashik. About 20 kms before reaching Nashik, turn left to visit Grover Zampa Vineyards where you taste wines and visit vineyards. Lunch is available for a group. If not in a group, head towards the nearby Vallonne for a short visit. There is a restaurant where you may have lunch and or snacks.
After visiting these two wineries, head towards Sula Vineyards. The road that goes to Sula also leads to York and Soma Vineyards. Visit one of the three and go to the hotel. You may stay at ‘Beyond’ or at facilities offered by Soma. Ginger and a few hotels are conveniently situated close-by. Food is available at all three places.
Visit the remaining two wineries next day, have lunch at York/Sula/Beyond/Soma and return to Mumbai. There are eateries available on the roadside as well. Winery visits and tastings are priced very reasonably at Rs. 250 to Rs. 850. I strongly suggested them to pick up as many bottles as possible to carry after tasting. Wines get bruised beyond 25˚C and no matter what anyone tells you, they do suffer higher temperatures in transit and it’s always best to buy wines at the winery anytime and anywhere in the world.
Route 2: Bangalore- GroverZ-Bangalore Soma- SDU (optional)
Bangalore is notorious for bad traffic. Therefore, it’s best to visit the wineries first and then go to the city. Start from the airport (pre-arrange a taxi) and head for GroverZ which is less than an hour away from the airport. After visiting the winery and tasting (a small restaurant is available for snacks and lunch) request (in advance) for a visit to the vineyard a few kilometres away. From there, head for Bangalore Soma Vineyards (pre-appointment necessary). Spend enough time at the winery and relax, soaking in the vineyards and fruit trees, walking through the vines.
You may have dinner here or head back. If you like to visit SDU Winery, the route is slightly circuitous and you have to spend the night at a hotel near Soma. Next day you may visit SDU and go back to Bangalore city or catch a flight.
Pre-bookings are strongly advised to visit these wineries.
Route 3 and 4
There are several small wineries in Nashik (Route x) and KRSMA and Alpine in Bangalore (Route y) which most tourists not particular about visiting specific wineries may avoid but are available for visits with previous appointments.
Route not defined
Two wineries definitely worth a visit start from Pune but were not intentionally included in the proposed routes at this stage. Fratelli is a state-of the art winery which can be combined with Four Seasons Winery-the most integrated winery with rooms to stay within the compound and many facilities like swimming facilities available. Unfortunately, neither of them really encourage tourists at this stage though once they open their gates, will provide excellent opportunity to visit two of the most modern wineries.
For most tourists desirous of visiting Indian wineries, Route 1 is ideal. In fact, I strongly suggested visiting the region around the first week of February when SulaFest is held. They were all quite impressed with the slides and I feel it is the best time to see the vibrancy and the future of wine industry in India.
Wine tourism- a Comparison
Before my Presentation at the IWINTC I had visited two of the highest visited cava producing wineries in Sant Sadurni, near Barcelona. Freixenet (imported in India now by Aspri) produces 85 million bottles. At over 7 million cases, this is almost three times the total production in India! They have excellent, unparalleled facilities for tourists with visit to the 4-story cellars and tasting at various levels-not to talk of the train ride that takes you through a part of the winery. They log in about 80,000 visitors annually.
Codorníu is another winery with just as impressive numbers. They take you thru the old cellars and conduct tastings in most beautiful surroundings. Torres (imported by Prestige- a Torres JV) is a more modern story of wine tourism with trains that run on alternative energy sources and have been the first to introduce this train in Europe. With a beautiful wine shop at the end of the visit, they are a must-visit winery for any wine tourist in Barcelona. Yet their annual number of visitors is around 60,000.
Sula had 230 visitors last year! That includes around 18,000 (my estimate) people visiting SulaFest over 2 days. A 20% increase is expected this year!!
Indian wine tourism is entering an exciting phase. GroverZ has ambitious plans which they claim are ready to unleash-this includes a hotel. One hopes we shall see a lot more of foreign visitors. Of course, as I told the audience that included mostly the people interested in wine tourism, to contact me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the slides are presented in the form of Gallery and are quite descriptive.) On a signing-off note- JAI HO!!
The Powerpoint Presentation with slides was preceded by a small video compiled by Babso Kanwar who had come with me with her cameraman to a few wineries in Bangalore and Nashik for a TV Shoot. Due to the paucity of time at the Presentation, the whole video was edited out of the total Shoot, to a little over a minute to give as much flavour of Indian wineries as possible.