As I took in the sprawling expanse of the heritage winery and the neat rows of grape
As I took in the sprawling expanse of the heritage winery and the neat rows of grapevines from the balcony of the Tasting Room, I mentally kicked myself. What had taken me so long to get to Sula? But the glass of wine I was nursing complained about being neglected, and I didn’t ponder the question for too long.
It was just as well that I had waited. The Source at Sula, their tasteful, new accommodation offering—which could fit right into a village in Tuscany if it had to—was open, and they were launching a brand-new varietal that evening.
The Source at Sula is a culmination of sorts, a labour of love and a well-deserved pat on the back for a company that taught Indians how to drink wine and taught the world that Indian wines could be drunk. Built at the very spot where the original—and, until recently, working— winery stood, and retaining a large part of the structure, I could see that it was making Monit Dhavale, Vice President, Hospitality at Sula Vineyards, wistful. As he showed us around, his conversation was peppered with statements like “The excise guy used to sit here” and “This is where the grapes were crushed” (not with the feet as is popularly believed, though, in the right season, they do offer visitors an opportunity to stomp grapes for fun).
Since they did not wish to tear down the original structure, building the Source presented some interesting engineering challenges and has resulted in each room being unique in some way. I was ensconced in the duplex Tower Suite, which, located at the very centre of the façade, lends it its characteristic look. It does entail a lot of trudging up and down stairs, but when you’ve had a drink too many—and with such fine wine at hand this isn’t hard to do—you’ll probably appreciate a room you can lurch up to rather than one which is a drive away.
At the vineyard, I kept running into people who had joined the profession largely because of their passion for wine, and none more so than Chief Winemaker, Karan Vasani. I think he used to be a CA, but, you’ll understand, after the wine tasting and varietal launch he presided over that evening—and of which I was the most enthusiastic attendee—the details are hazy.
In a winery operation as massive as Sula, new wines are launched constantly but the launch of a new grape variety is rarer, not least because of the unique challenges our climate poses. The grape in question was the Grenache and the wine being launched a rosé (a growing market, I was told). Pleasant as the wine was, more interestingly, it was part of a new product line—The Source—and Sula’s cheerful sun logo was missing from the low-key label. But then Sula’s corporate culture encourages thinking out of the bottle.
Since it would be unacceptable to sit in a vineyard and drink only one kind of wine, almost every Sula wine in existence was uncorked and poured out. Karan helped channel our inner oenophile and I made mental notes of my preferences in anticipation of my next trip to the theka. Spittoons were placed on every table but the one on mine went unsullied. I don’t believe in wasting good wine. Of course, given the quantity of wine Sula bottles every year, there’s no way this vineyard can fulfil its requirements, so now there are larger vineyards in multiple locations. It’s still a working winery though, and once you throw in a behind-the-scenes tour, Sula makes for a great weekend stay.
While the main building of The Source assiduously tries to transport you to Tuscany, more immersive in nature (and with superb vineyard views) are the cottages on stilts (although they like to call them ‘treehouses’).
There are two restaurants: an Italian one which is pure vegetarian and an Indian one which does superlative kababs. The Tasting Room offers competent finger food. The spa does excellent treatments, especially one with grapeseed oil, but it really needs its own standalone space rather than being tucked away in a corner of The Source.
For something still more intimate and tranquil, there’s Beyond by Sula, a few kilometres away. On the banks of the Gangapur Lake, it consists of seven Lakeview rooms as well as the minimalistic three-bedroom SkyVilla.
The legendary, and legendarily shy, Rajeev Samant, who started Sula, made a cameo appearance. Or perhaps we accosted him on the lawns. A Masters from Stanford, he chucked up his job at Oracle and backpacked around the world for a year, before settling down at the family farm in Nashik and growing fruits. Then he planted some grapes, including varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, which had never been grown here before. That was 20 years ago. It’s a wonder what a little wine can do.
Location: Sula Vineyards, Gat 36/2, Govardhan, Gangapur-Savargaon Road, Nashik 422222; 3.5hr drive from Mumbai via NH-160
Accommodation: A variety of options, including ‘treehouses’, rooms and suites
Tariff: From ₹7,000 per night (for a courtyard-view room), including breakfast, winery tour and wine tasting, taxes extra. The Tower Suite costs ₹10,000 per night
Contact: +91-7875555735, sulawines.com