A Wine Trail in Nashik

To start with I am not a major wine enthusiast. In fact, I side more with whisky. My exposure to wine is more because it is one of the preferred drinks of my wife. While I love to sip it once in a while, my knowledge about the spirit is pretty rudimentary and my palate is not discerning enough.


Against this background, why a three-day winery tour? Well, my friend Indranil (a globetrotter who has been to more than 100 countries) has recently returned to Hyderabad from Oman and started his own gourmet travel brand “Travel with Neel”. He has been organizing trips of Nashik for many groups of wine enthusiasts. Over some casual conversations, three families (Indranil and Mousumi. Partha and Moumita and us, who have been friends for more than two decades) suddenly decided to do this wine tour to the beautiful Nashik countryside and get an idea of wine production and tasting. “Travel with Neel” was very happy doing the entire package for us.




All our bookings and reservations were done promptly. The morning flight to Nashik from Hyderabad landed around 9:30 am, and Indranil, who was there already (as he was taking care of another group) received us at the airport. Soon we were off to Trimbakeshwar to pay our respects at the ancient Shiva temple located 28 kms from Nashik. En route our first stop was Sadhana restaurant, to enjoy some authentic local Misal Pav that Nashik is known for along with some jalebis. Misal Pav for the uninitiated is a predominantly breakfast dish of a spicy curry of moth beans and pavs, with garnishes of farsan and chopped onions. The version popular here is known as “Chulivarchi” or cooked on a Chula. We also dropped our luggage at Pai Farm Resort, a sprawling bungalow close to the Godavari, which has three bedrooms, a huge drawing and dining space, a nice sit-out and a green lawn in front. This would be our home for the next three days. The couple who own the farm has their residence next to the bungalow as well as a homemade cheese farm. Pai Farm is very close to a few wineries such as Sula, Soma, and York.









It is said that when the first winery was set up in Nashik by Sula, the owner chose this place as its weather was similar to Napa Valley with warm days and cold nights. Over a period of time, more than a dozen establishments producing wines have come up in the city, with the Maharashtra government also providing encouragement by setting up a wine park here.






After a quick darshan at Trimbakeshwar, we landed up at Vallonne Vineyards. We had made a small goof in our planning, as the first day of our trip was a dry day due to Ganesh Nimmajjan, and the wine tasting facilities were closed. Vallone houses Malaka Spice restaurant, a popular Pan-Asian brand from Pune. I liked their outlet in Hyderabad which unfortunately had to close down last year. While we went for their Pad Thai and Nasi Goreng at Vallone, we found that they were launching their Indian menu on that day and decided to try their Mutton Sukka as well. The balcony of the restaurant provides a great view of the Vallone vineyards and the distant lake. Vallone also has four excellent rooms of the top floor which is very popular for the weekend travelers from Mumbai and nearby places.





The evening was well-spent trying a few brands of local wine, along with some cheese samplers from Le Fromage, the artisanal cheese boutique of Pai Farm. We tried Syrah Merlot from Vallone, Muscat Blanc from Nipha, and ended with Zinfandel Rose Litchie from Soma. The cheese platter had eight varieties of cheese including ricotta, feta, gouda, mozzarella and cheddar. I especially like a chilli spiked variation of Gouda that they make.




The vegetarian dinners at Pai Farm Resort for me were one of the highlights of the trip. All of us are hardcore non-vegetarians, but we liked the comfort home-cooked Maharashtrian food so much that we decided to have this for all three days of the trip instead of trying the non-vegetarian places around.





Pai Farm Resort is located amidst nature, and the morning was spent exploring the surroundings. The breakfast of misal and poha was again extraordinary.







Well stuffed we set out for our wine tasting trip, first travelling to Chandon India Winery, located at Dindori which was a bit of a distance. Chandon India was perhaps the cleanest facility that we visited during this trip. They have wine tasting for Rs 500, where they offer three of their sparkling wines, Brut, Delice (a sweet wine with higher sugar content) and Brut Rose.  Chandon was established in Napa Valley in 1973, with the Indian facility in Nashik set up in 2013. While Brut uses three grapes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, Rose is made from Shiraz. Over the tasting, the executive from Chandon explained how they work alongside the farmers to produce their grapes as well as the techniques using which they make their wine.  While imported yeast is used in their production, carbon dioxide form in these wines making it bubbly.







Our next stop of Pernod Ricard in the same neighbourhood. They have two main brands Nine Hills and a new one Indiosa which they are introducing. They have two varieties of red wine (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) and one of the white variety (Chenin Blanc). Our tasting here has Indiosa Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. Unlike Chandon, they took us all around the factory, where we looked at huge containers to process the wines and a few complicated apparatus for quality testing in their laboratory. The entire process of grape

cultivation, crushing using pneumatic crushers, fermenting inside huge tanks, filtration and aging (only for red wines) were well-explained.




Vinchur Wine Park is located across the city at Vinchur. Apart from many small wineries, it has a Wine Information Centre to boot. Our first stop was Good Drop Wine Cellars. Though their facility did not look too impressive, they have some niche products like Rio Pritzers (fruit flavoured fizzy wines), as well as Casablanca, a sparkling wine rated very highly among Indian wine lovers. We met the owner Ashwin Rodrigues here and took a tour of the facilities.


After a quick lunch at the restaurant adjacent to Wine Information Centre, we landed at Nipha, a boutique winery. It was getting dark, but the husband-wife owner duo of Ashok and Jyotsna Surwade were waiting for us. The enthusiasm of the couple is explaining their process and products to us were palpable. Nipha is a very small place who grow their own grapes, unlike many others who buy from contract farmers. We tried the red (Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon), White (Muscat Blanc) and Rose. Some bottles were picked up for future use. We were quite tired and called it a day, but I was already pepped up looking forward to the next day’s experience.


Day three started with some more good Maharashtrian breakfast, this time with some Sabudana Khichdi and Kanda Bhaji.  Owing to my frequent travels and food cravings, I do eat in many places. Only a few of these maintain consistency in offering good food. Mrs. Pai, Govind and the team here in Pai Farm Resort must be commended for the high standards that they offer in all their meals.






Today, we were visiting a few vineyards very close to our place to stay. The first was Sula. Now this looked like an entertainment park, with restaurants, huge displays, tasting rooms and amphitheaters. Sula charges an entry fee to visit their facility, they also charge separately for wine tasting.  It was a Saturday, and busloads of people were arriving from nowhere and there was quite a crowd on the campus. After visiting their wine shop and gift shop, we booked ourselves for the guided tour and tasting at 1:30 pm (they have groups every hour for this). Sula has a huge range of wines, possibly the biggest among any wine companies in India. They also dominate with more than 60% of market share.




The guided tour has a very structured presentation starting from a bit of history about how in 1998 Rajeev Samant identified Nashik to set up a bouquet winery. Now they have four properties two each in Maharashtra and Karnataka and 88% of their wines are consumed domestically. We were taken through the grape crushing and fermentation processes and explained the types of grapes used for different wines. The difference is the process between red, white, rose and sparkling wines were described well. Details like how the white wine is bottled right after filtration while red wine goes for aging in Oakwood barrels (for about 6 to 24 months) were patiently explained. Factors that influence aging are barrel quality and maintain the correct temperature and humidity.  A byproduct of making wines at Sula is the Grapeseed oil that is bottled. They employ a complete waste management process to ensure nothing is wasted.







The tasting session at Sula is the most elaborate as they expose you to six different wines. Late harvest Chenin Blanc, The Source Sauvignon Blanc, Brut Chardonnay, Rasa Shirah, Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dindori Chardonnay white wine were served to us, though this set of wines changes regularly. The tasting room overlooks the vineyards in front.



Our lunch was at the restaurant on the ground floor of York Winery.  We visited their wine store and tasting room upstairs to pick up some York Late Harvest Chenin Blanc which we were told is the best in this genre. We also had a look at the Allrounder range of wines which is endorsed by Kapil Dev.





Our last stop of the day was The Soma Vineyard. This is a sprawling facility but not as well maintained as Sula. Soma is known for three different wines – Chenin Blanc Kashmir, Zinfandel Rose Litchie (I liked this) and Shiraz Jamun. We had a look at the facilities, picked up a few bottles for the evening and left for our resort. The next morning, we took the return flight to Hyderabad.




A few takeaways from the trip. Nashik is a very green place with temperate weather, with the Godavari flowing by next to the city. The winery trips are extremely educative and also a lot of fun. And finally, the location, service, and hospitality at Pai Farm Resort will make me return here soon.
“Travel with Neel” offers curated wine trips to Nashik. The eyes for detail with which the trip was organized need to be appreciated. You can contact them at 9848018178.

Finally, a few wines I liked during the trip (please note I am absolutely a rookie as far as wines are concerned):

1. Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc
2. Soma Zinfandel Rose Litchie
3. Nipha Rose
4. Nipha Muscat Blanc
5. Casablanca Sprakling Wine from Good Drop.

2 comments:

  1. Great reading . Makes u feel that you are already there! PS : The dinner at Pai resort is not mentioned. Did u not have the diner there ?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dinners were at Pai resorts only. Unfortunately overlooked taking pics of the dinners.

    ReplyDelete