For a hot country, India has always had an inexplicable love
affair with whisky and rum. Beer is also a favourite, but wine has
had a limited following. Ignoring the prophets of doom, Rajeev
Samant launched Sula Vineyards in India's first vineyard
in Nasik, Maharashtra.
India's first vineyard, Sula
produces a number of exceptional wines © enygmatic/Flickr
Sula taps into the aspirations of the newly globalised economy.
The setting is inviting. Lush vineyards, a resort a bar with a
view, reasonably priced good wines - all within an easy drive of
Mumbai. Spend an indulgent day sipping on a glass of their best
seller, the Sula Cabernet Shiraz, or the Chenin Blanc, which makes
for good accompaniment with spicy curries. The full-bodied, smooth
Dindori Reserve Shiraz, grown on their Dindori estate, goes well
with grilled meat and hard cheese.
Today, Sula owns 60 per cent of the market share and hosts a
hugely successful music festival called Sula Fest, held every
February (Feb 7th - 8th in 2015).
Rajeev Samant is the founder and
CEO of Sula Vineyards © Sula Vineyards
Ironically, Rajeev confesses that he used to be a spirits
drinker and didn't know much about wine. He lived in California and
drove to Napa Valley from time to time. When he ended up in grape
country, Nasik, it triggered memories of the Californian vineyards.
On returning to India for good, Rajeev considered his father's
business of stevedoring. "I came across my family's 30-acre plot in
Nasik during a family wedding. In 1994, the area was virtually
deserted with no houses, electricity or phone lines. Organic
mangoes were my initial idea but I realised the region was ripe for
Located 600 meters above sea level and surrounded by Western
Ghats, Nasik has a dry climate with warm days, cool nights and is
ideal for growing a wide variety of grapes. India is the only wine
producing country in the northern hemisphere that has a winter
The Tasting Room lets visitors
enjoy wine while taking in vineyard views © Sula Vineyards
Rajeev opened The Tasting Room and India's first vineyard
resort, Beyond. With 170,000 visitors in 2013, Sula is
where many Indians first taste wine. Apart from urbanisation, a key
cultural driver for brands like Sula, Grover Zampa and Four Seasons
has been the quantum shift of women seen enjoying alcohol. The
success has spawned vineyards in Karnataka, which has been good
news for Indian wine tourism. The wineries host vineyard and winery
Beyond is India's first vineyard
resort © Sula Vineyards
It's a good year to sample the wine at Sula as Rajeev believes
that the 2013 vintage is their best so far and the 2014 harvest was
exceptional. With Sula's collection of reds, white, rosé, sparkling
and dessert wines, you're spoilt for choice.
At Stanford University, Rajeev had enjoyed open-air concerts by
bands like Grateful Dead and Red Hot Chili Peppers. To recreate the
atmosphere, he built an amphitheatre at the vineyard. The two-day
Sula Fest takes place at the Greek-style amphitheatre and attracts
a crowd of ten thousand.
The annual Sula Fest brings live
music performances to the winery every February © Mihir Suvanum/Flickr
Rajeev says, "I wanted to enjoy country and city life. New
wineries are discovered very rarely. So looking back on being a
pioneer of a new wine region and then creating great quality wines
from that region, it's been a phenomenal journey."