July 09: After a complete lockdown since March 24, Nashik has taken the first baby steps to open wine resorts with the stipulated restrictions on hygiene and social distancing with Beyond by Sula being the first to open tomorrow, followed by The Source at Sula next weekend at the statutory 33% capacity with no wine tasting or restaurants to open, writes Subhash Arora who agrees with Rajeev Samant that for now the safety of visitors and the staff is more important than Sula’s famous wine experience
The Source at Sula has 51 rooms and Beyond by Sula has 7 rooms and a villa. Legally 17 rooms and 3 rooms can be opened respectively, according to the government order released yesterday. Although the ‘Beyond’ will open tomorrow- July 10, certain minor modifications are being carried out at The Source to ensure proper hygiene, keeping all the statutory procedures in place. ‘The restaurant tables are being re-positioned and there will be change in the Check-in and service procedure to ensure that only one person will touch the ladles or utensils in the service area,’ says Monit Dhavale, Vice President Hospitality, who says that Rajeev Samant who has been at the property since the lockdown is extremely particular about the hygiene and strictest adherence to the government rules and beyond.
Rajeev Samant, Founder CEO has been in Nashik since March and has been there ever since-perhaps the first ever such long stint at the winery for him at a stretch. He tells delWine,’ of course we are tremendously relieved....and excited! Just 33% occupancy allowed for now and no wine sales in the restaurants...but I'm quietly hopeful that things will open up even more within another couple of weeks. Bookings are already coming in and everyone is gearing up for a Covid-free reopening here at Sula!’
He was to leave for the UK on April 1 but was at the winery to oversee the harvest in March when the lockdown occurred. It might not be the best thing that happened for him but certainly it helped the winery big time. He could not only oversee the completion of harvest judiciously allowed by the administration, he has been able to partake in the blending process with the Chief winemaker Karan Vasani since Kerry Damskey has not been able to travel from California this year. He has now been actively involved in ensuring that steps are followed strictly to keep safety of the customers as well as the staff.
Tasting room which was already closed in the middle of March before the official orders came, will still remain closed as they have a bar license and are awaiting permission to open. Similarly, the two restaurants Little Italy and Rasa will also remain shut. Unless one is in residence, no food will be served and of course, no wine either.
‘Despite fall in traffic and increase in overheads per guest, Sula is offering initially a discount of around 25% on the published rates, with prices for the super-deluxe Beyond by Sula as low as 6.500 per day,’ says Monit who concedes they will be gradually raised as footfalls increase. He is hopeful that restaurants will be allowed to open in the next couple of weeks, albeit with restrictions and the Tasting Room might also be opened. Winery visits may still not be allowed for some more time. They are getting a lot of enquiries already from Nashik, Mumbai and Pune visitors.
No SulaFest in 2021
Meanwhile Sula has decided to call off SulaFest 2021- the annual music and wine festival organised by Sula on a grand scale on the first weekend of February every year. Rajeev Samant had decided a couple of weeks ago in consultation with Chaitanya Rathi, Chief Operating Officer of Sula group to cancel it. Keeping the same logic in mind with over 6000 people thronging the winery on a day, it is very difficult to maintain the social distance. ‘We will come back in grand style in 2022,’ says a beaming Monit.
Besides wine sales, the tourism business has taken a big hit. Last year there was a drop of 10-15%, bringing the number of visitors to around 320,000-330,000. This year will see a massive drop-4 months have already been lost and when it opens there will be several restrictions due to social distancing, fears Monit who hopes Diwali to March will still be a bumper season.
Other wine destinations
Same rules apply to all the wineries-meaning no tasting rooms or restaurants allowed to open and no wine to be served in open places. Pradeep Pachpatil, owner of Soma Vine Village, says they are opening their Regenta Resort from July 15 and are working on details. The kitchen there will operate but only room service available for all meals. Main restaurant in the winery remains closed as does the tasting room- but take away on wine is still allowed. There are 32 rooms and 14 in the Villa. Therefore 15 rooms will be opened-to be serviced by the same kitchen at Regenta through room service.
Unfortunately, York Winery has nothing to offer the tourists right now until the government relaxes the rules further. Vallonne Winery, about 25 kms short of Nashik, is a boutique winery looked after personally by Shailendra Pai and his staff. He has been at the winery for a month overlooking the fermentation and blending but his small resort of 4 rooms cannot be opened yet for tourists. ‘it does not make sense to let out only 1 room with a kitchen to serve the guests. If the government allows at least 50% occupancy and the restaurant, we would still like to open and keep the place running and I am hopeful that the next step would be just that. Grover has been behind in the tourism project and one would have to wait for the formal announcement to plan a visit post-Covid.
Tough Covid Times
Like anywhere else in the world, the wine business has been tough in India. But most countries have seen opening their tasting rooms this month. There is the critical matter of health and nobody can challenge the government’s wisdom of what to allow and what not to. But everyone needs to be ready. And Sula has proven once again that they are ready as ever as the leaders and Soma is following them, taking steps to offer an alternative and to complement a visit to Sula.
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