Wine tourism is something new in India. Google “wine tourism in India” and you get 2.98 million results — one indication of the booming interest in this little-known but fast-growing niche.
But what is “wine tourism”? If you’ve seen the movie Sideways (2004), you will have the perfect recipe for what wine tourism is all about: endless vistas of rolling hills planted with wine grapes; little wineries tucked away amidst these vineyards offering visitors a taste of their wines; space to discover yourself. Of course, in California the grapes are harvested in autumn, so both the ambience and the weather are great.
The reality in India is quite different — as the grape is harvested in February-April, the days can get quite hot towards the end. Nasik Valley is the only area with enough wineries to justify a visit.
While the drive up the ghats to Nasik is interesting, god forbid that you get caught in a jam or find yourself in the middle of a convoy tailing a container-carrier. Nasik is a dusty and crowded city, and one could drive for miles with nary a vineyard in sight.
The saving grace is Sula Vineyards, the only one really organised for wine tourism. They organise vineyard tours in January-March (a one-hour tour costs Rs 150), and also have a great tasting room (which gets quite crowded on weekends) and two lovely restaurants (Little Italy and Kareem’s) at their winery.
There’s also a three-bedroom bungalow beyond, for those wanting to spend the night nearby (bookings, only for the whole bungalow at Rs 16,000/Rs 20,000, including vineyard tour, all meals and wine tasting). Call 99700-90010 or 0253-2230575 or check their website (www.sulawines.com) for more details.
Other wineries I know of in the area with a “walk-in” tasting facility are York Winery (96557-28070), also located on the shores of the picturesque Gangapur lake (not too far from Sula), and Renaissance Winery (Prajit — 92251-24624) on the Agra road.
Most other wineries do not have walk-in facilities, and accept visitors only by prior appointment — the ones worth visiting include Vintage Wines (Yatin Patil — 98226 84423) and Chateau D’Ori (Kailash Dhuru — 99200-53862).
Lastly there’s the grand-daddy of them all: Chateau Indage, whose winery is on the Pune-Nasik road, but which does not encourage visitors, even though there is a wine bar-cum-restaurant on the main road, right at the winery gates where you can sample and buy their wines.
Then there’s Grover Vineyards, whose winery is some 40 km outside Bangalore, who also accept visitors only by prior appointment — you have to call Maitry Desai (93796-27175). All the other Karnataka-based wineries are too far away, near Bijapur, Belgaum, or Bidar, and none is as yet geared for visitors.
It will take years for wine tourism as known worldwide to develop in India, and right now those who can afford it head overseas, for the rest, there’s either the Nasik Valley or a long wait.
Wines I’ve been drinking: The Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, with its distinctive gold label and inky red colour, is delicious. Loads of berries, mint and spice on the nose, this is a full-bodied wine with a smooth and fruity taste, and a good long finish. Rs 900 in Bangalore, Rs 800 in Mumbai, and only Rs 750 in Goa — enjoy!
[The author is a Bangalore-based wine consultant]