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Visit to Nashik Wineries by an MW from Bordeaux

Posted: Tuesday, 09 May 2017 13:53


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Visit to Nashik Wineries by an MW from Bordeaux

May 09: It is futile and unhelpful to make any comparisons, but the passion and desire to make better quality wine left a deep impression on John Salvi MW who recently spent 3 days visiting vineyards in Nashik and tasting several wines at Gateway Hotel Nashik along with the host for his trip, Subhash Arora and shares his impressions of Indian wineries from the visit

Click For Large ViewAfter being driven for 3 hours from Mumbai airport and landing in the evening at The Gateway Hotel Nashik, we went to work immediately. Subhash had planned an evening of wine tasting with Yatin Patil, President of the All India Wine Producers Association and owner of Reveilo Winery near Nashik. Vinod Pandey, the hotel General Manager, had arranged the tasting in the wine bar of the hotel, with delicious Indian snacks and fine glasses.

Tasting at The Gateway

 Two of the wineries  came to the hotel to show me their wines; besides Yatin there was Sanket Gawand, the winemaker of Vallonne Vineyards and a couple of wines from Good Drop Wine Cellars, the producer of Casablanca sparkling wines. They explained to me that 80% of Indian wine is made here around Nashik in Maharashtra State of which Mumbai is the commercial and financial capital.  We started with Casablanca sparkling wine- a fresh, clean wine made with bought-in grapes.

We tasted alternately a whole range of wines from these two wineries.  They told me that the Indian consumer does not like screw-caps*, which encouraged and endeared me to them.  They gave me information about harvesting in the heat and the very complex and restrictive Indian Wine Laws. I was fascinated to learn that bats eat grapes if allowed to do so and are therefore a pest, that only 1% of all grapes planted are destined for making wine and that Nashik has around 70% of the total vines in India. 

The other wine producing area is Karnataka. Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore consume between them about 80% of all wine produced. Reveilo showed an excellent Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese as well as a Grillo, while Vallonne had a fine Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot.  Both showed a fine sweet wine, one botrytised and the other shrivelled on the vine (fletri).  This was followed by a sumptuous dinner laid by Vinod Pandey.

Visit to Charosa

Click For Large ViewThe next morning was a long, bumpy and dusty drive on a truly terrible road to Charosa.  However, the suffering was well worthwhile.  We were warmly welcomed and given the grand tour of the winery.  A comprehensive tasting of their wines followed with the winemaker, Ashok Patil, where they showed me wines just as well as they had in Delhi, but I was able to look at them in more depth.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc were particularly well made, elegant and suited to the export market.

We discussed at length wine making techniques in such a hot, dry climate.  We then lunched in a delightful pavilion overlooking a lake that they had created to supply water.  The winery manager, Pralhad Parvatikar, with true Indian hospitality, gave the impression that he had all the time in the world when I am sure that in fact he was intensely busy, and treated us to a home-made chicken curry among other delicacies.  We could probably have lingered happily until supper had not Subhash politely kept us moving.  On our equally bumpy, dusty and jolting return to our hotel we enjoyed a relaxing foot massage, a swim and a long slow dinner of special Maharastra Cuisine, prepared for us by the executive chef Ali Khan, with a bottle of Château D’Ori, Four Seasons Barrique Reserve, Nine Hill and Turning Point.

Visit to Sula Vineyards

Click For Large ViewThe next day was a very full one indeed.  Subhash never allows grass to grow under his feet!  We visited no less than 3 wineries: Sula Winery, York Winery and Somanda Winery.  Sula was the first- by far the biggest winery in India and very efficiently run and organised.  We sat on a most attractive terrace in the Tasting Room and tasted in detail every single one of their wines slowly and thoroughly – no less than 15 of them including a very fine French style Cabernet Franc. Ajoy Shaw, the Chief Winemaker was kind enough to present the wines.

Click For Large ViewAfter this I was overjoyed to be able to see the vintage in process.  We watched the grapes arrive from the vineyards and be de-stalked and vatted for fermentation.  They told me they have one more week of vintage left to do and today was 29th March.  Sula is a very serious winery and all the equipment was impeccable.  We were graciously looked after by their viticulturist Neeraj Agrawal and winemaker Ajoy Shaw.

York Winery

From here it was only a short drive to York Winery.  A beautiful spot with lovely panorama and we sat in their attractive restaurant with the best of the views and tasted their wines over lunch.  During an excellent and thoroughly Indian lunch we tasted 8 wines, which included a particularly fine 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and a superb 2015 ARROS of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Syrah with 13 months in barrel.  The winery started in 2005, made their first harvest in 2008 and put their first wine on the market in 2010.  Our delightful hosts were Ravi Gurnani and his winemaker brother Kailash.

Somanda Winery

Click For Large ViewWhen one is enjoying oneself, time goes by very quickly.  We just made time to pop into Somanda Winery.  The visit was unannounced, but we were warmly welcomed by the winemaker, Mr. Prashant, and Erica Taylor, a charming young lady from the USA who has fallen in love with Wine and India.  Somanda is owned by Pradeep Pachpatil, an ex-General Manager of Sula but sadly he has not carried the Sula quality with him.  However, it is a hugely successful resort with bungalows, swimming pool, restaurant etc.  We tasted three wines and made our excuses.

Back to Sula

We then drove back to Sula where we were to spend the night in their lavish and luxurious guest facilities in the middle of the vineyards, complete with swimming pool.

But this was a tour organised by Subhash and there was more work to be done first.  It was what I had been wanting to do ever since we arrived.  A detailed and exhaustive tour of the vineyards and a full and complete explanation of the vinicultural year, the work in the vineyards and the handling of vines that are never dormant.  This was, for me, a very steep learning curve and totally fascinating to boot.  I had a long and highly informative session with their chief winemaker Ajoy Shaw who was a mine of information, an expert in his field and a most delightful and helpfully understanding person. He is certainly one of India’s most knowledgeable wine personalities.  I will not go into the details of the vinicultural year.  Indian readers know all about it and there is insufficient space.

That evening, after a wonderful dip in the pool, we dined in the restaurant and conversed with three charming young Indian ladies who had come to visit the winery from Kolkata and were drinking wine for the first time in their lives.  I feel sure it will not be the last!

Grover Zampa Vineyards

Click For Large ViewSubhash is a glutton for punishment and on our last day we visited two more wineries before trying to break both our necks and the speed record for the drive back to Mumbai and the Taj Lands End.

The first was Grover Zampa (Grover merged with Zampa some years ago).  This winery is deep, deep in the country along impossible roads.  What the French would call “un coin perdu!”.   When we got there, we were taken on a tour of the vineyards and saw field grafting, a practice that has long died out in Bordeaux.  They claim almost a 100% take, which in this climate I find remarkable. 

We then had the very real pleasure of a barrel tasting in the cellars, which I love,with the assistant winemaker Abhay Rajoria, and which makes me feel that I am really getting down to the nitty-gritty of wine.  We tasted some 2017s, primary and undergoing malo-lactic fermentation, but with fruit and considerable potential.  A serious tasting followed in the conference room with 10 wines including an exceptional Barrel Fermented Viognier 2015 and a One Tree Hill single vineyard 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Syrah.  Their sales here, I was told, are so good that they are forced to put wines on the market before they feel that they are really ready!  An excellent and professional visit!

Vallonne Vineyards

Our last visit was by a long chalk not the least.  It was a tasting and lunch with the owner Shailendra Pai  at Vallonne Vineyards, the winery that had come to the hotel the first night.  Time was limited and my feet were tired so we dispensed with the winery tour.  We tasted the wines at table during one of the most delicious and gastronomic meals of the whole trip – a skilful combination of Italian and Indian cuisine.  During the meal I was informed, to my considerable surprise, that SALVI is a common Indian name in this region.

An elegant and refine 2015 Shiraz sat surprisingly well with Curry Leaf Prawn, Basil Chili Mutton and Mongolian Crispy Tofu.  The hospitality was generous, warm and friendly, the wines excellent and Vallonne Winery provided a perfect end to our 3 delightful days in the vineyards.

No comparisons please

The reader will notice that I have avoided making any comparisons.  They are both odious and totally unhelpful.  What shines through everywhere is PASSION.  The overwhelming will to learn, to improve, to make the finest possible wineand to discuss how to make wine with the greatest possible skill and expertise that will give the consumer the maximum amount of pleasure.  All this is both encouraging and vastly heart-warming.  Indian hospitality is a dream. 

Thanks entirely to my good friend Subhash Arora and his excellent organisation, allied to the fact that he is both very well-known and highly respected in the Indian Wine World, I was able to enjoy 3 wonderful days visiting the wineries of his choice in and around the wine city of Nashik.

John Salvi Master of Wine

*Point of view expressed by them, based on their own experience and not necessarily congruent with the big picture-editor

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