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Delhi Wine Club
Fifth Season at the Four Seasons Winery

Posted: Monday, 04 March 2013 13:35

Feature: Fifth Season at the Four Seasons Winery

Mar 04: Four Seasons Wines, the wine division of United Spirits is getting ready to welcome visitors to their winery near Baramati, as a handful of journalists were invited for the first time last week to stay at the integrated guest house to taste the full range of their wines including the top-end wines to be released soon as ‘Ritu’ labels being introduced in India after a successful debut abroad, writes Subhash Arora

Photos By:: Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewEvery time I asked Abhay Kewadkar, Vice President, Director and Chief Winemaker of Four Seasons during the last two years when they would be ready with the guest house/resort to attract wine lovers to visit and become a part of the wine tourism circuit, his typical answer used to be six months!  So I wasn’t surprised when I met him a month ago and put the same question as a pleasantry. His well rehearsed answer was the same - but with a different twist. ‘Why don’t you come to the winery in the month end? We are inviting a select group of wine journalists to visit us towards the end of February. We would like you to come and stay with us and check out the winery during the harvest.’

I had already committed for a wine tasting trip to Tuscany; so I accepted to the visit after my return, on 27th February.  The best way to reach the winery is to drive from Pune. ‘It takes only an hour and a half from the airport for the 75 kms distance, if the traffic is easy, but always less than a 100 minutes,’ he assured me as we drove out from the Pune airport where he had arrived from Bangalore and I from Delhi.

Reaching the winery

Click For Large ViewHe wasn’t off in his estimate; we arrived in 100 minutes. The Pune-Sholapur highway stretch is mostly wide, beautiful and not bumpy. After about 65 kms, turning right on the road to Baramati and driving for about 7 kms, we could see the winery complex from a distance, like a dot on the map. What a fantastic view coming closer as it looked like a movie set created for Bollywood in a nowhere land!

I realised that apart from being ‘Jungle main mangal’ (Oasis in a forest) it beat Chateau Indage and the Chateau d’Ori-only two other Chateaux in our wine industry in appearance. It was more impressive and palatial than even some of the Chateaux I had visited in France, certainly those making wines.

A huge complex made with jaisalmer unpolished  marble and a compatible finish that merges tastefully into the natural environment, with a huge gate leading to the main building, with newly planted trees on each side of the road and vineyards on both sides truly looking majestic. Abhay explained that they owned the land and had planted 70 hAs of vines around the winery two years ago but were using it primarily for R & D to demonstrate to the farmers working with them on long term contracts. ‘We have planted several clones of the varietals on rootstocks in these experimental vineyards which would also help the view around the winery,’ he informed me as we alighted.

What Abhay didn’t tell me was that he was the brain behind building the winery and the guest house-cum-resort which has taken more time to build due to the winery and brand building of wines getting higher priorities over tourism. Kewadkar is perhaps the first winemaker in the modern day wine making in India, having worked since 1988 for Indage and then Grover. It has been his ambition to make the most modern winery in India and looking at the building, one would agree that he has perhaps made his dream come true.

Winery, Agriturismo or a Chateau

Is it a winery, agriturismo or a Chateau? It is a combination of all - a well integrated concept. The only winery in India that has been constructed on the lines of a majestic Chateau (even a run-down winery  in Bordeaux may be termed a chateau!). The guest rooms are built around the winery to give the visitors a first look at the winemaking and the feel of agriturismo in Italy. But the facilities are much more comfortable and plush. The rooms are big sized with all the modern amenities and consumables provided.

Click For Large ViewAll the 10 rooms and 4 suites are connected with the winery through a corridor. Walking to the Restaurant that will double up as the Tasting Room, you can see the fermentation tanks through the clear glass - or the completely automatic bottling line. During harvest, you could even watch the white or the red grapes being neatly sorted and cleaned and de-stemmed on the conveyer belt as our group of journalists did. You would pass by the retail shop which will sell wine and other merchandise - or the conference room, or the laboratory. Continue walking and you reach the back end of the building that has the swimming pool area with large sections of artificial green grass around - a part of which could even be used as a practice putting green for the golf lovers.

What you don’t see yet is the spa and vino-therapy facilities soon to come up. You also don’t see the coffee and wine bars to be built on the top of a 3-storied tower which is an integrated part of the edifice and designed for entertainment of the residents and other visitors. A billiard room and a party deck are also in the offing.  ‘Our concept is to make it a self-contained entertainment place where one may come with the family, relax and visit the winery, taste our wines and experiment with food and wine pairing, enjoy the beautiful landscape, the sunrise and the sunset-a completely relaxing getaway,’ says Abhay.

With the conference room, restaurant and 10 rooms ready and functioning and the 4 suites in the final stages, it is hard to disbelieve Abhay Kewadkar when he says the wine tourism facilities with overnight stay will be available fully in 6 months and open to wine lovers, making wine tourism to the Four Seasons Wines a reality.

The company is looking for a hospitality partner. For me ‘Relais and Chateaux’ – a luxury international chain around the vineyards comes to mind instantly. It would be an ideal choice for a tie-up as a wine trail.

Côte-Rôtie of India

‘Chateau’ Four Seasons is undoubtedly going to be a great getaway for the denizens of Pune, with only a 90-minute drive from the city on a pleasant road and a lot to offer for wine aficionados and those wanting to learn about wines. Situated in the village of Roti in District Daund, with technical help from the UB owned French winery Bouvet Ladubay, it could well imbibe another French flavour and strive to become a part of appellation Daund - Roti when the system comes into being in India!

Although one would not find it convenient to travel by train, there is a railway station named Daund Junction. If you can afford a helicopter, a helipad is already in place though one cannot but wonder if it was built keeping in view the possibility of a Kingfisher helicopter service to the winery from Mumbai/Pune. Incidentally, if you don’t mind a 5-6 hour journey by car, Mumbaikars can also look forward to an enjoyable  retreat as affirmed by a few journalists who had arrived from Mumbai well in time for lunch.

Focus on food, wine and art and Chef Nilesh

Click For Large View'Food is a very important component for us to promote wine culture and our wines,' asserts Abhay. They have sponsored a young wine chef competition in Bangalore recently organised by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international association of gourmets. The local winner, a Sous-Chef from Ista Hotel Bangalore, will be sent at the company's expense to compete next in Istanbul. Similarly, ‘Ritu’ sponsored a young chef competition in London recently. Four Seasons proposes to encourage young chefs and help them showcase their talent. Young artists will also be promoted by the company as he believes wine and art go well together.

In order to accentuate the experience of the guests who had been invited for the first time since the winery was operational, the company had organised the services of Consultant Chef Nilesh Limaye from Mumbai. He is a celebrity Chef and a TV host who is as comfortable with Konkani and Maharashtrian food as Italian cuisine and gave a glimpse of his dexterity during the week with a changing Menu every day, served with élan. The option of tasting wines of Four Seasons, including the barrel samples and even wines not yet released gave everyone a wide spectrum of wines to experiment with different food he and his team had crafted.
A curious journalist asked Abhay, ‘Sula started Sula Fest that took them in the direction of music and wine; what would be your focus once your guest house is ready and open to the public?’ ‘Promoting young talent in food and wine,’ was the instant answer from Kewadkar. ‘I believe we have to spread the wine culture by matching and drinking with food. So we are focusing already on events related to food.’

Ritu - the Fifth Season for India

As a part of the strategy moving forward, the current export label Ritu will be further improved with better packaging and upgrades. The company also plans to roll out the label in India this year with the current two Barrique Reserves- Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz upgraded to this premium category. Kewadkar concedes that they might not discontinue the current Four Seasons label immediately because of logistical and other practical issues. ‘But all premium products will be introduced under this label in future for India and exports,’ he confirms.

Spearheading the new products will be Super Barrique Reserve starting with the 2009 vintage. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz, the wine is currently aging in the bottles. To be released this year, it will be priced and positioned to compete with Rasa (Sula) and Sette (Fratelli), indicates Abhay, avoiding the pricing discussion at this point. The process for making and introducing sparkling wines has also commenced. While the Four Seasons Brut will have a blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, a Rosé Brut will be introduced in the Ritu premium category. This blend of Zinfandel and Shiraz was already drinking very well. It will give a run-for-the-money to Grover Zampa and Sula and vie for the top spot in the Rose Sparkling category.

Also on the cards is a Ritu Barrique Reserve Viognier with total fermentation and aging in oak barrels. It would be interesting to watch this wine as it would indicate whether Indian wine lovers are ready to accept complex but oaky whites with or without meals.    

Interestingly, Abhay points out that the name 'Ritu' label was selected for exports since Four Seasons was a rather generic and unexciting label for the international market; Ritu is the Sanskrit translation for ‘Seasons’. One journalist said she always believed that Ritu was selected as it was the name of Vijay Mallya’s mother!

Youngest winery with ISO 22000

One of the problems observed frequently in the Indian wine industry is a lack of cleanliness, hygiene and the comprehension that it is not possible to make good wine if high standards of hygiene are not maintained during winemaking. It was impressive to observe Four Seasons winery give top priority to this aspect. It is not surprising that the company has been awarded the relevant certificate ISO: 22000, making it the latest and youngest winery to have received the certificate which is valid for three years. In fact the certificate was received on the day we were at the winery. The only other winery currently holding this certificate is Nine Hills, according to Kewadkar. Although it does not imply that wineries not possessing this certificate are not hygienic, it does indicate that outside experts independently certify that hygiene is getting the due importance it deserves.

Wine Production and Tasting

Click For Large ViewThe winery is very modern. And certainly unique, if one considers how well it is integrated with the staying facilities for wine tourists. It may be difficult to pick out a clear winner out of Four Seasons or Fratelli which is coincidentally the closest to the winery (3 hours drive) and would make it a terrific wine destination in the near future if the managements of the two estates decide to co-operate with each other.

The ground work has been well-laid for future expansion. Four Seasons claims to have a capacity of 1 million liters, sufficient for 110,000 cases of wine. Confident of crossing the 100,000 case-mark this year (ending March 2013), the company will continue to be the number two winery in India (setting aside the cheap Port wine in the market) behind Sula. It hopes to defend its second position despite an increasing competition promised by Grover-the erstwhile runner-up in the industry for many years.

Click For Large ViewIncidentally, Abhay confirms that the lower ended label Zinzi brought out with much fanfare initially is not an important label as strategy and the promotional efforts are focused on Four Seasons and Ritu which is doing well in the export market. A container order worth 1440 cases of Viognier shipped to Waitrose in London augurs well for the company. Recent awards at Hong Kong International Wines and Spirits Challenge, Decanter Asia etc are an indication of the ever-improving quality of their wines.

The winery and the infrastructure is a foundation around which Four Seasons is ready to share the growth of wine culture in India during the coming years while thousands of visitors to the winery may look forward to soon enjoying the visits and hopefully the taste of Four Seasons wines.

Subhash Arora

Voluntary Disclosure: Transportation and Hospitality for the visit were provided by Four Seasons Wines Ltd.

Photo Gallery

Tags: Baramati, Chateau Indage, Chateau d’Ori, Grover, Relais, Chateaux, Bouvet Ladubay, Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, Ritu, Nine Hills, Fratelli, Hong Kong International Wines and Spirits Challenge, Decanter Asia



Swapneel Says:

ya four seasons winery, roti is great place.. and the products are also great..

Posted @ July 02, 2014 12:40


Girish Says:

Vineyards, Winery and Winemaking to its exact perfection in India. Roti has got the corner for Indian Winemaking.

Posted @ March 11, 2013 11:40


Manoj Kr. Karnwal Says:

Simply the best.

Posted @ March 11, 2013 11:10


Akshay Gopal Says:

Worth a read!!! Good job on the writing

Posted @ March 08, 2013 10:40


Shivani Says:

A winery with a chateau, makes it so much more scenic and interesting to visit this place and enjoy a glass of chenin !Wonderful article

Posted @ March 08, 2013 10:10


Adtnu Says:

Awesome article on the beautiful Four Seasons Winery...

Posted @ March 07, 2013 14:12


Sidd Banerji Says:

What a wonderful and exhaustive report that was.Almost felt I was at the venue.Added to those were the classic analysis and critical observations.So educative.Thanks Sir.

Posted @ March 07, 2013 13:55


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