Type Wine Festival   Time First Weekend Of February    Location Sula Vineyards, Nashik, Maharashtra

The best wine may be aged, but at SulaFest, it’s all about youth. With free-flowing wine and spirits combined with music, food, shopping, pulsating energy and a great outdoor atmosphere, this grand celebration of the humble grape has become a must-see, must-do event for thousands of wine connoisseurs and music lovers.

The festival takes place at Nashik, the headquarters of Sula Vineyards, which is one of India’s foremost wine producers. A pleasant three-hour, 170-km drive from Mumbai, Nashik enjoys spectacular weather from September until March. Therefore, SulaFest is always organised on the first weekend of February. The timings on both Saturday and Sunday are 12.30pm–11.30pm. Its ninth edition was held on 6 and 7 February, 2016 and was attended by over 14,000 revellers. It’s quite a leap from an attendance of 250 people at the first SulaFest of 2007.

From those initial days, when wine drinking was in a very nascent stage in India, Sula itself has come a long way. From a traveller’s point of view, Sula is probably the first place to have started wine tourism in India when it opened the country’s first winery, Tasting Room, in 2005 and the first vineyard resort, Beyond by Sula, in 2007. The popularity of Sula has grown to such an extent that Sula Vineyards warmly receives over 2,00,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most visited vineyards in the world.

The winemakers have built several activities around the process of winemaking and, of course, wine-drinking, and SulaFest is a major highlight in its calendar.

The organisers strongly discourage children below 12 years of age due to the high decibel music.

A notable feature about SulaFest is that it is eco-friendly. An operation as large as this can have a major impact on the environment. However, using 100% recycled water and a large chunk of electricity taken care of by solar power, Sula has succeeded in minimising its carbon footprint; a feature sure to gladden an eco-conscious traveller. At SulaFest, all the plastic that is used is collected and transported to a recycling unit 40km away. There, the plastic waste is converted into diesel.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

For wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike, the highlight of SulaFest is, obviously, the vino. The organisers conduct special tours and tastings, which may only be available for VIP tickets. They are priced higher than regular tickets, but considering the privileges (access to VIP Dome, VIP Parking, two free glasses of wine and gift vouchers) they seem worth it. As the name indicates, Tasting Room is where the tastings take place. The rustic new Tasting Cellar is another place that gives enthusiasts a fitting ambience to sample the wines. The followers of the four commandments (SEE, SWIRL, SMELL, SIP) are to be found here.

Apart from the wines produced in the vineyards of Sula, the tastings include samples from wine partners of that particular edition of the SulaFest. In 2016, it was Hardys. Some of the wines from the Sula stable were Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Riesling and Blanc de Noir sparkling wine – Brut Tropicale.

Wine not your cup of tea? Fest-goers can also enjoy a wide selection of libations from around the world by Sula’s import arm Sula Selections. The brands include Asahi Super Dry Beer, Budweiser, Cointreau, Grant’s Reserve, Jägermeister, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, William Grant and Sons, Stolichnaya vodka, Good Juicery and Bisleri.

If the process of making the wine excites you as much as drinking it, grape stomping is a fun way to become familiar with the art. Alternatively, take part in the selection of quirky games conducted around the arenas. The selfie game (approaching random strangers and getting selfies with as many of them in a minute or less) is very popular.

 

A path through the vineyards leads to the festival venue
A path through the vineyards leads to the festival venue

Tired of all the running around and partying? Head to the fish spa or for a foot massage, both are excellent ways to unwind. Other fairground activities such as tarot cards, tattoos (temporary only, for safety reasons) and portrait artists also keep visitors occupied. The 2016 edition featured a fashion show, which displayed the swimwear collection from clothing brand Vero Moda, one of the partners of the event. Showstopper Anushka Manchanda’s live performance at the show lent it just the right energy.

World Music Festival

SulaFest gives fest-goers the perfect pairing with wine: music. The vineyards have two music arenas; the Main Stage housed in a Greek-style amphitheatre and the evocatively-named Atmasphere (atma is Hindi for soul). For two days, artists and bands from across the world make the tipsy visitors sway to upbeat tunes. Traditionally, SulaFest invites foreign bands that have never performed in India. Some of the artists who have performed at the fest over the years include Young The Giant, Gentleman’s Dub Club, Will and the People, The Raghu Dixit Project, Shaa’ir & Func, Ankur and the Ghalat Family, and Lucky Ali.

With a massive stage, state-of-the-art music system and breathtaking light effects, the arenas turn into concert venues as revellers enjoy the electric atmosphere that only live music can create. Leading DJs from across the globe also play their sets of dance-worthy tracks.

In 2016, Australia’s popular band The Cat Empire performed on the SulaFest’s Main Stage. It was the band’s first performance in India and one exclusively for SulaFest. The band also launched its album ‘Rising With The Sun’ at the fest. The headliner on the second day was the Indian band Kailasa, led by Sufi singer Kailash Kher. At Atmasphere, Edu Imbernon from Ibiza, Spain, a celebrated name in the international electronic music scene, performed a two-hour set. Other musicians and bands such as the Reggae Rajahs, Rik Watts and Bono also kept the tempo going. The musical performances start at 2.00pm and continue until 10.00pm, staying true to its hashtag #RhythmOfTheVines.

A Healing Touch

As much as it is a celebration of wine, food and music, SulaFest is also a commemoration of the human spirit of kindness. The fest provides a platform to various NGOs working for the welfare of the underprivileged sections of society. While the NGOs spread awareness about their cause here, there are plenty of fest-goers looking for opportunities to volunteer for social causes. The organisers select three NGOs every year to participate in SulaFest free of charge. In 2016, animal welfare NGOs Sharan and Awas, and NGO for special children ‘Hausla’ had their stalls at the fest.

Shopping

For souvenirs, head to the flea market at SulaFest. It has a range of quirky and fun items on sale, such as junk jewellery, party props, shows and clutches, paintings, clothes, home décor, wooden toys, and of course, wines and all accessories related to it, such as vacuumizers, wine racks and openers, amongst others.

WHERE TO STAY

Fest-goers have a wide range of stay options, from luxury hotels such as Gateway Ambad (part of Taj Holidays) to budget chains like Ginger. For those who love the outdoors, luxury tents are also available at the vineyards. All the options are less than 30 minutes away from the vineyards.

Camping & Glamping

Tent City by Lets Camp Out was such as huge hit in 2015 that the organisers increased the number of tents from 250 to 350 in 2016. The campsite is 300m from the amphi-theatre. The tents are equipped with bedding and solar lights. There is also a ‘chill zone’ where you can try your hand at archery, badminton, hula hooping, kite flying and other fun activities. Breakfast is included in the tariff. Visit W letscampout.com for more details.

Glamping by Lets Camp Out was another hit at the SulaFest 2016. Glamping has its roots in the early 1900s European and American safaris in Africa. Wealthy travellers accustomed to comfort and luxury did not want to sacrifice either, and their campsites and pampered lifestyles reflected just that.

The Glampout Zone at SulaFest hosted 10 ultra-luxurious tents that had their own toilets and showers, and a dedicated bonfire. The tents are 13ft long, 13ft wide and 7ft high. They are equipped with double air beds and blankets to keep you warm. The tents have coolers as well. Contact Abhi (Cell: 09819817099; Email: abhi@letscampout.com; W letscampout.com) for more details.

Hotels

The Gateway Hotel Ambad (Tel: 0253-6692300; Tariff: 7,000–22,000), formerly the Taj Residency, set in 20 acres of lush landscaped gardens, is Nashik’s only five-star hotel and a major landmark in the city, on the Mumbai-Agra road. Hotel Ibis (Tel: 6635500/ 55; Tariff: 4,000), offering all amenities, is another good place to stay. Book online at gateway.nashik@tajhotels.com.

SulaFest hosts several bands and musicians from across the world every year
SulaFest hosts several bands and musicians from across the world every year

Beyond by Sula (Tel: 3027777, Cell: 07875555725; Tariff: 6,500–36,000), near Sula Vineyards, is set amidst beautiful grape vineyards by the Godavari river. Guests take a tour of the wineries, enjoy the tasting sessions, walk or cycle to the nearby dam, stay in comfy villas and eat good food. There is also a swimming pool and spa here. Tariff during the festival goes up and includes winery tours and wine-tasting sessions. Soma Vine Village Resort (Cell: 07721885885, 07028066016; Tariff: 6,500–7,200, with a winery tour and wine-tasting session) offers clean and comfy rooms and villas.

Other options are Hotel Royale Heritage (Tel: 2504080, 2595852; Tariff: 900–2,075), Ginger Hotel (Tel: 6616333; Tariff: 2,825–2,933), Hotel Panchavati Yatri (Tel: 2572291/ 92; Tariff: 1,700–4,400) and Samrat Hotel (Tel: 2577211, 2578211, 2306100; Tariff: 1,350–3,200). Tariffs rise during SulaFest.

Homestay

Gulmohur Homestay (Cell: 08805014481; Tariff: 1,200–2,500), near Trimbak Vidya Mandir on Trimbak Road in Village Belgaon Dhaga, is 11km from the city. It is run by a couple who has travelled the world and been associated with several human resource development organisations around the globe. The family home is situated on seven acres of land with lots of trees. This is a place where you relax on the garden swing or read a book under a tree. The rooms have adjoining lounge areas overlooking the garden. Tariff includes breakfast (Indian/ Continental, vegetarian/ non-vegetarian). Lunch and dinner are available on request at an extra cost.

WHERE TO EAT

Gourmet Delights at SulaFest

Heady aromas go well with heady wine at SulaFest. From a special menu crafted using organic produce to quick grab-and-go items such as burgers, nachos and shawarmas, the festival’s dishes are both palate-pleasing and plentiful.

At the popular Soleil by La Plage, a special menu is created with organic produce from Sula’s very own farms, offering a sit-down gourmet dining experience like no other. For instance, the goat’s cheese is produced on the vineyard itself, using milk from goats that are reared at a farm close by.

Asparagus and free-range chicken are just some of the other examples of the locally produced fare that is incorporated into La Plage’s classic and sophisticated French menu that also includes modern versions of some celebrated Indian dishes. Soleil offers a truly farm-to-form dining experience at Sula vineyards.

Other notable culinary names that made their presence felt at SulaFest are Social, Bombay Food Truck, Olive Bar & Kitchen and Woodside Inn. Mainland China set up its stall for the first time at the fest in 2016. Even adman Prahlad Kakkar put his stall at the fest, dishing out delectable biryani. Pop-ups selling kebabs, bakery items and other goodies also dotted the premises.

There was also on offer, the singularly unique pairing of London Dairy Ice-Creams served with wines from the Sula Stable. Some of their creations were Double Chocolate ice cream with Dindori Reserve Shiraz, London Dairy Natural Strawberry with Sula Seco Rosé and London Dairy Mango Sorbet with Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc.

The best restaurant in Nashik is attached to The Gateway Hotel Ambad – Panchratna. Curry Leaves offers a varied and delicious Mughlai spread. Radhakrishna is popular for its sea food and Purohit Thali Restaurant serves yummy Gujrati thalis. Divtya Budhlya Wade serves delicious chicken and mutton thalis and Sadhana Restaurant serves the best misal in town. For Maharashtrian cuisine, head to Rangoli Restaurant. Woodlands is a multi-cuisine restaurant. Mainland China is on the Mumbai-Agra road.

FAST FACTS

Festival Organiser: Sula Vineyards, 36/2 Govardhan Village, Off Gangapur-Savargaon Road, Nashik

Tel: 0253-3027777

Cell: 09970090010

sulawines.com, sulafest.net

Tourist Office: MTDC, Paryatan Bhavan, Government Guesthouse Premises, Near Gold Club Grounds, Nashik.

Tel: 2570059

STD code 0253

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Mumbai (185km/ 4hrs). Taxi costs approx 2,600 (for a drop) and 5,500 (return) to Sula

Rail Nashik Road Railway Station has links with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata

Road Bus Nashik has regular buses to and from Mumbai’s Central, Dadar and Parel bus terminals. For Volvo service contact Neeta Tours and Travels (Tel: 022-28329778;  neetabus.in) in Mumbai