First, lift the wine glass from its stem. Take care not to touch its bowl, since you don’t want any fingerprints. And then, see. Hold it against a bright white background–the ceiling or a wall should do–and observe its clarity. Particulate matter of any kind is unacceptable. Then, observe the colour. Assess its richness, evaluate its depth and focus, particularly at the top rim of the liquid. For red wine, the brighter this rim, the older it is. For whites, darker is older.
And then, swirl. With a free, loose wrist. Watch your drink rotate, almost hugging the rim of the glass, and then watch it settle. You have now released its fragrance. Sniff. Take a strong whiff, and describe what you smell. A fruity, citrusy or perhaps nutty, caramel-like aroma? Or spicy? And finally–sip.
This formulation isn’t mine. As we sat in Soma Vine Village’s winery, at a table surrounded by wine-themed display pieces, humongous barrels and rows of sparkling wine at various stages of fermentation, we were being educated in the art of wine tasting by Cellar Door Manager, Amritpal Singh.
Soma Vine Village is located 12km from ‘India’s Napa Valley’, Nashik, Maharashtra, in a belt of wine estates which also includes the well-known Sula Vineyards. Continue on the same road, enjoying the freshness of the lush rain-fed vegetation coupled with the constant scent of petrichor, and turn left to find the splendid vineyard resort. Slanting roofs supported by wooden panels, its balconies and verandas overlooking a hill on one side and the infinity pool, the Gangapur Dam, vineyards and distant hills on the other.
Every story looks a bit prettier if it has a hero. In Soma’s tale, the protagonist is Pradeep Pachpatil, chairman and managing director, fondly called PSP. He’s a jovial and enthusiastic individual pursuing a unique idea–that of fermenting wine suitable to the spice-loving, masala-obsessed Indian palate.
The PSP-owned Vine Village is a nearly decade-old 25-acre complex. Its 15 acres of vineyards grow all five Indian grape varieties, allowing for a yearly output of 85,000 litres of wine. Pachpatil previously worked with Sula, concentrating on their wine tourism sector. What resulted, in 2010, was the Beyond Vineyard Resort, which Sula ran till June 2016. A couple of months ago, Beyond became the Soma Vine Resort. Suddenly, Pachpatil had 46 rooms under his wing–29 in the erstwhile Beyond, three in a magnificent villa he had originally built for his own use and seven each in two other massive villas.
While the rooms at the resort have simple interiors, and are all equipped with either a balcony or a sit-out and lounges/bathtubs in the case of the pricier options, such as the luxury suite, the villas are even more stylish. The three-bedroomer, especially, is gorgeous, with wooden flooring, sitting room with beanbags and barrel-shaped tables, dining table at the centre embellished with bottles of different kinds of wine, winding staircase, many large rooms and garden with a large pool.
Soma’s hospitality wing is lavish. Can the same be said of its wine culture? On the contrary, we encounter humility and a glimpse of PSP’s vision. The first vintages were presented in 2014, and the winery’s 19 fermentation tanks produce a limited yearly output. So this makes Soma, as Amrit said, “India’s only boutique winery”. PSP wishes to keep it low-key. The idea isn’t to expand aggressively but to promote wine connoisseurship through an honest tourism experience where people come, experience wine and all its facets and go back wiser. It was left to Kalyani Jadhav, Soma’s marketing manager, to tell us of plans to increase production five- to six-fold in the future.
The winery produces 13 blends–some of them white, some red, some sparkling, one rosÃ©, and all of them delicious. The vineyards grow five varieties of grapes to produce these blends–Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon.
On our second day, Puneet and I had lunch with Jadhav at Suffiana, the resort’s multi-cuisine restaurant. We ordered a Sauvignon Blanc Dessert (“white wine made with Sauvignon Blanc; extra sweet”) which is basically wine acting as dessert, and which we enjoyed with a cheese platter. I’d take a sip of the ‘dessert’, quite pleasing to my sweet tooth, and immediately neutralise it with a bite of cheese. At nights, we enjoyed some of the Sauvignon Blanc Gold (“white wine made with Sauvignon Blanc; dry or absent of sweetness”) and Chenin Blanc Silver (“white wine made with Chenin Blanc; sweet”). Puneet preferred the drier wines–he thoroughly enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc Gold, which he found refreshing and rich. I enjoyed the Silver, with its citrusy sweet flavour. And we both loved the RosÃ© (“made of Zinfandel”), which tasted just right in every way imaginable.
Soma Vine Village has a few more interesting tricks up its sleeve. The newly opened restaurant Vintage: Rotisserie, Grill and Wine Bar, presents a unique concept–every dish has a touch of wine in it. Their Spa Nilaya offers vinotherapies, using wine-related ingredients. Puneet and I took a, well, couple’s massage, where an ‘Insta Life Red Wine Therapy Masque’ had us rejuvenated and smelling, quite strongly, of wine. The Sensation Vine Lounge is a garden amphitheatre for larger events and Zonkers, Soma Vine Village’s adventure park, offers go-karting, rope activities, rock climbing and other activities at just a slight walk away.
The first time we met the staff, we joined them at the winery where a meeting was underway. A couple of chocolatiers had come, and we ascertained how different kinds of chocolate went with the wine. Seventh on the list was popcorn chocolate, with its burnt and smoky flavour, to be tried with one of Soma’s reds. We then had a, well, chocolate-flavoured wine. I thought it delicious. Most others thought it too sweet. As Puneet and I walked back, I said, “Wine and chocolate. Wine and popcorn. Wine and Gujarati cuisine. What’s next?” He responded, “Wine and samosas?” Now, that’s a new idea for anyone looking...
The closest airport is Mumbai (174km/3.5hr), although Pune (222km/5.5hr) is also close. Soma Vine Village is 12km from Nashik. Cross Sula Vineyards and York Winery to find it on your left. The nearest station, Nashik Road, is 25km away.
Soma Vineyard Resort
The resort has options for all budgets. The cheapest are the standard rooms (from â‚¹6,000 doubles), but the â‚¹7,000 deluxe rooms are worth the extra buck. For larger groups, the three-bedroom villa begins at â‚¹24,000 and the seven-bedroom villas at â‚¹42,000 (taxes extra; rates inclusive of breakfast, vineyard and winery tour, wine-tasting sessions). Contact: +91-7028066016; somavinevillage.com