March 10: Armed with progressive thinking and magic wand, Rajeev Samant, Founder Director of Sula Vineyards, not only made a smart decision to buy Heritage Winery near Bangalore, 3 years ago but refurbished the winery completely within 2 years and has been despatching within Karnataka from here since last September with wine tourism being next on the anvil, writes Subhash Arora who visited the winery last week during a personal visit to Bangalore
I had visited the Kadu Winery about 4 years ago when it was Heritage Winery, owned by P L Venkatarama Reddy who was kind enough to organise my visit instantly while I was travelling on Mysore Road to Alpine Winery. I had called him up from the car when I saw their roadside hoardings on the way. A builder by profession, he was known to be a big producer of fortified wines that sold in 2 price ranges at Rs. 100 and Rs. 137 each, pushing out 160,000-190,000 cases annually.
In order to promote wine tourism, he had created tasting facilities and a 5- Acre vineyard around the winery gave him grapes for varietal wines selling at around Rs. 500. One could taste 6 wines including fortified wines for a paltry Rs. 150. Horrifying as it might have been to connoisseurs, he was the only one in Karnataka promoting wine tourism while the leading Grover Vineyards had been completely neglecting this sector.
For reasons not within the realm of this Article, Reddy approached Sula with an offer he could not refuse and the shrewd Rajeev bought it perhaps for a song on 1 February 2017 and put his team to work right away after Sulafest 2017. While all the brands owned by Heritage came with the territory, Sula was keen to produce the newly launched brand Kadu and regular labels of Sula and Dindori red to start with.
Gorakh Gaikwad, Associate Vice President and Senior Winemaker of Sula Vineyard, who used to report to the former Chief Winemaker Ajoy Shaw and later Karan Vasani in Nashik, has been assigned to look after the Karnataka operations that include the 650,000 - liter capacity, Indian Ambience winery leased to produce Sula wines sold in Karnataka- in order to save the import duty chargeable on any ‘imports’ from out-of-state.
It used to produce about 100,000 cases of Nashik 1000 Port, Port Gold and Karnataka Port Sweet Wine and the entry level Samara. It also produced Yana label but later discontinued it and started producing exclusively for Sula. Currently, it is leased to Sula which manages the total operations, says Gorakh, adding that Sula and Kadu labels have all been shifted to the new Winery and the ‘Port’ wine is the only wine made there-and as a policy they do not want to exceed 50,000 cases as Sula (mercifully) does not like to promote that category anymore.
Kadu Winery has been operational since September 2019 when the maiden despatches were made from there. This year the second crush is currently going on-including some of the Sauvignon Blanc which is still on the vines around the winery.
The winery has been divided into 4 distinct parts- the first one is the office in the old villa, The Tasting Room, a Grape Stomping Room. The winery is divided into 3 parts- one new block houses 21 stainless steel tanks of different sizes with 600,000- liter capacity while the old winery block has been refurbished to give 500,000 capacity tanks. A new block with 2 artistically painted walls with tiger stripes (Sula supports ‘save- the- wildlife’) that houses a chilled barrel room, bottling lines and the finished goods inventory). There is a separate line for Heritage wines only 3 labels of which continue to be produced and sold; fortified wine production was stopped and the license surrendered soon after the winery was purchased.
It is heartening to know that Kadu is also using solar panels like Sula in Nashik and running the whole winery without electricity during the day.
Wine tourism had initially taken the back seat naturally. ‘Our first objective was to get the new winery ready and running. We had simultaneously been upgrading the facilities for wine tasting and visits to the winery and vineyards. We have recently started the tourism with Kiran Srinivas; she used to work in the hospitality section of the erstwhile Heritage Wines and continued working with us, having a team of four that look after the vineyard visits, tasting, bottle room and the souvenir shop,’ says Gokhale who is the winery in-charge reports to Chief Winemaker Karan Vasani in Nashik.
The Restaurant that operated earlier continues to operate and offers good snacks and food, indeed as it did when I had visited the winery before. Contracted out, father looked after the operation earlier while his son is managing it now. Incidentally, the whole of Heritage team continued working with Sula/Kadu and no one was asked to leave the company.
An interesting permanent feature is the grape stomping which apparently is quite popular here. For Rs. 250 for 30 minutes, one can stomp to one’s heart desire. Fresh grapes are bought twice a week to replenish the stock for 2 tanks kept specially as an attraction.
It is heartening to be told that Karnataka Wine Board is supporting the wine tourism efforts as it did for Heritage earlier. ‘We are being sent by them groups that have gone back with positive feelings. Some even come back again and again to buy wine by the bottle or a case. Based on the amount spent, there are incentives too,’ says Kiran. As I reiterated, a point of merit for positive marketing that a consumer ought to be aware of, is that wine is at its peak performance at any winery. From there it is always downhill, depending on the quality of transportation and storage chain link at various transient points, which are far from perfect.
I tasted a range of wines produced at Kadu and Sula Nashik. While Dia was too sweet for me (it is curated for young novices, especially girls) but lacked pressure too. It did not feel as if it had the declared 2.8 bar atmospheric pressure of a Frizzante. Generally, whites tasted slightly better from Nashik, except Riesling. Reds from Kadu Winery have done well.
When Sula had taken over Heritage, Rajeev Samant, Founder Director of Sula had confided in me that they would continue with Indian Ambience for 2-3 years more but it appears that there would be a division in the labels produced. Kadu will keep on getting more labels in its production portfolio as the demand increases. With Tamil Nadu opening up and South India market gradually opening up, the winery is ideally located to service South India. The ‘Ports’ (no fortifying with alcohol at Sula which only adds dextrose to increase the sweetness and alcohol) and other entry level wines can continue to be produced there independently and other premium labels like Rasa can be added to the portfolio of production which already includes Sula and Dindori red. The Source range will continue to be imported from Nashik plant as the sales are limited.
Another advantage is that grapes are available in plenty from South Maharashtra and North Karnataka is known for its red grapes too. In fact, a good chunk of grapes is sourced from here for Kadu winery too. White grapes are more tropical in flavour in Nashik though Riesling I added to my lunch menu was as delicious as in Nashik. Red wine grapes, especially Cabernet are supposed to be better for wines in Bangalore but they are also more expensive due to supply demand imbalance. Sula has been working with farmers for long term contracts to sort out this issue.
In times to come, you will hear more of Kadu Winery in the news, especially as a wine tourism destination.
For earlier Articles, please visit:
Sula launches Kādu wines in Bangalore #BornToBeWild
Sula Buys Heritage Winery in Karnataka
Blog: Fortified Wine Tourism Karnataka Style
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