The Gateway Hotel, a Taj Group property, has a unique advantage as a wine tourist destination in Nashik because of its central location for those travelling by car. It is bang on the highway (although this is precisely what has caused a big backache for the hotel at present, thanks to the Supreme Court ban on liquor vends on the highways- it may soon be designated as a District Road, alleviating their problem). Staying at this property, you may visit any of the Nashik wineries during the day including those which are not part of the regular tourism route and return to the hotel in the evening to enjoy various facilities like swimming pool, spa, indoor games, 20 acres of sprawling lawns and of course delicious food in the two restaurants.
Though there is no official wine route in Nashik, the most visited destination is Sula, with York and Soma Vine Village being the beneficiaries, being close to it. Grover Zampa and Vallonne are close to each other, about 25 kms from the city. For others like Chandon, Charosa, Nine Hills and Reveilo, one needs to plan special trips (though the first two may be combined for a day-trip). There is one common gateway to all the wineries- The Gateway Hotel, Nashik.
Gateway to the Wineries
After driving a few hundred meters (seemingly over 500!!) inside the hotel property, as you enter the lobby and walk to your left to the Reception desk, past the traditional Indian welcome, you are greeted by two beautiful paintings staring at you behind each side of the counter. They depict wine making and drinking in old and new Nashik, The center of the lobby is adorned with a wine-related decorative arrangement which is changed frequently.
As you walk towards Citrine-the all day dining restaurant, The Grill for Al Fresco dining or the Solterra Bar through a long corridor, you see another painting on your left-this, one a 50-feet long canvas painting titled Grape to Glass, by a well-known local artist Shishir Shinde. This one depicts within the several small borderless frames, the process of growing grapes to serving wine; you cannot resist taking a selfie or pose with friends and posting instantly on Facebook or Instagram.
Walking further down the corridor and a floor below, there are four suites named after grapes- Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir (though I wonder why not the ubiquitous grape Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc from this region, already known globally as Nashik Valley). A beautiful, comfortable suite with a private garden where one can have private wine dinners, is still work-in-progress, says the man behind the concept, Vinod Pandey, the General Manager for over two years.
I met Vinod Pandey at a Delhi Wine Club Dinner in 2002-2003 when I had organised a dinner at La Rochelle Restaurant, later the famous 360. He was perhaps the maitre d'hotel and Sandip Kalra, the now Exec Chef at Trident Gurgaon was the Sous Chef. Reminiscing about that dinner, Pandey says that was his first wine dinner followed of course by many others that made him fall in love passionately with wine and he went on to study and taste fine wines at such dinners. During his previous posting at Taj Mahal New Delhi , he was managing The Chambers as Restaurant Manager and worked closely with Parveen Chander then the EAM F&B ( Now the GM at Taj Lands End, Mumbai) to organize several prestigious wine dinners including Mouton Rothschild, Lynch Bages, Gaja and Les Cinq etc. This was followed by the assignment as the F&B Manager at Bangalore’s prestigious The Taj West End and later as EAM Food & Beverage, at Taj Bengal when K. Mohanchandran was the General Manager. It was there that the concept of the Taj International Vine and Food Experience took shape and they organized first successful event in 2014.
One of his additional roles at The Gateway Hotel, Nashik was to expand the property from the 70-room hotel to 148. That is when these grape-named suites came up. The logical strategy to name each of the suites after the top four vintners of Nashik-like the beautiful Yeatman Hotel in Porto boasts, has not happened yet and hopefully the suites will soon be made even more wine-oriented in the near future.
However, he has several ideas he wants to put in place to make the hotel a wine-centric property and a wine destination. There is a small lobby at the suites level which he would like to convert into a wine library with the Nashik wine map and other related information. Although he already encourages wine dinners-he was quick to organise one with the Indian Wine Producers Association when I visited Nashik with my colleague John Salvi MW, he says, ‘I would like to see at least once a month a similar wine dinner where the producers come together and exchange ideas over the local wines.’
He has already achieved a lot to make the hotel an excellent wine destination. Amongst many packages, the one that won my vote was Winecation-a package for two for 2 nights at a price Rs. 10,000 + taxes. The package includes the usual breakfast and buffet dinner/Thali for two, but also lets the guests visit 5 wineries over 2 days with a car supplied by the hotel; Sula, York and Soma are covered one day and Grover Zampa and Vallonne are covered on the next. Wine Tastings are complimentary at these wineries, thanks to a tie-up with the wineries, says Pandey. As a sweetener, one bottle of Indian wine is presented with each package.
To give the guests an experience of local food, one dinner is reserved for the Panchratna Restaurant where a Maharashtrian Thali is served with unlimited portions. One can order wine in all the restaurants out of a wine list that boasts of around 90% Indian wines. He likes to showcase as many wines from this region as possible. When John Salvi MW told him about the excellent quality after the visit to Charosa Vineyards, he conceded he did not have it listed but promised he would contact them soon and list it in the hotel Menu.
Every wine bar or restaurant must have wine flights to give the wine novices an opportunity to enjoy different wines. Gateway has a flight of 3 Indian wines-each measuring 150 mL. At Rs, 999++ and served with a cheese platter, it is worth taking the offer; thus over a 2-day stay one can taste and drink 6 wines. Not surprisingly, these flights are quite popular with women travelling from Mumbai in small groups and youngsters, affirms the General Manager.
An informal discussion and wine talk when you see him slightly free, are a bonus since Vinod, who has been working with wines since 1995 during his Oberoi Hotel days, is quite knowledge about wines and would love to share his passion and experience and various anecdotes which can be the next best thing to actual wine drinking.
Next time you plan a visit to the Nashik area, you might do well to check out the property and the packages the hotel has to offer. Chances are that some other innovative idea would be in place by then, thanks to the present General Manager, Vinod Pandey.