As I moved my shoulders, snapped my fingers and bobbed my head to the lyrics of Jungle’s ‘Happy Man’, “buy yourself a dream and it won’t mean nothing”, being played out by the UK-based band, my mind transcended into a different space. The funk outfit took the main stage for day one’s closing act. As the synth took over, so did a mood akin to a London nightclub in the 1970s (or so I imagined), filled to the brim with a crowd at the mercy of frontmen Josh and Tom’s falsettos. A crowd that had momentarily forgotten that they stood in India’s wine capital, amid blooming vineyards and blushing skies.
12 editions old, SulaFest has neither let other music festivals overshadow it, nor has it assumed a Tomorrowland-esque self-importance. It feels as fine as Sula’s own The Source Sauvignon Blance Reserve. Founder Rajeev Samant's party of the year was all about quality with as many as 10,000 attending the 2019 edition. The location made a lot of difference—after the music faded away and people were back to reality—they befriended the manicured hillock that played host to SulaFest, the kiosks, food court and interactive zones that embellished it. The occasional whiff of the shiraz grape emanating from adjoining vineyards is second to none but the sight, swirl, sniff, sip (and not spit) of a Sula Sparkling Shiraz.
Sula Vineyards located in the Nashik countryside is a perfect maze to get lost in. I accidentally traded a straight walk up to the main amphitheatre to get a panoramic view of the entire location. My eyes first caught glimpses of the SulaFest Bazaar road with its quirky stalls. Beyond them, was an old graffiti-coated Mercedes, leading up to the grape-stomping zone.
On my way back, I walked into The Tasting Room, where celebrated winemaker Karan Vasani earlier indulged us in some of the company’s new creations—the barrel-aged Rasa Zinfandel, with its mocha-like notes; Brut Chardonnay, India’s first 100% chardonnay bubbly; and Sparkling Shiraz, with a frivolous flavour that eventually settles well on the tongue.
On day two, Gregoire Verdin, Brand Ambassador at Sula, had us try ‘Sula Selections’ or spirits that the company imports. Just like the wine, Highland Queen, a blended Scotch, is aged in oak casks. It was presented to us in a ‘whisky peach smash’ avatar where the peach really tore through the musky whisky flavour. And at the Beluga kiosk, an Italian mixologist churned up the Beluga sauer, with a remarkably satisfying sweetness.
The gargantuan food court too called for some dedicated ‘sampling’: chicken burger from Bombay Food Truck; fusilli at one of Panzani’s live pasta carts; and a bottle of rosé paired with the blueberry variant of Brookside by Hershey’s chocolate.
In the end, it didn’t even matter if the Divines or the Shankar Mahadevans attracted crowds or not. It was an obscure band, Hallouminati, that really stayed with me. They bubbled under the UK scene for nine years before landing their first album; Tonight, is heavy. The seven-person-wonder was a bit of everything—raga punk to traditional Greek and heavy brass—and even had someone debate me on whether their wind instrument was a trumpet or a trombone (it was the latter; I was wrong).
Despite being in its 12th edition, SulaFest is like a breath of fresh air every year. To the regulars, it even felt more evolved than earlier editions—maybe it too has been barrel aged?
SulaFest is held every year in the first week of February. Visit sulafest.in for more information.