The Wine Capital of India

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As our time in Mumbai was coming to a close, we set our sights on a city 100 miles to the northeast called Nashik. The fourth fastest-growing city in India, Nashik is a city of about 1.5 million people and is situated on the Godavari River, which is considered holy in Hinduism. While the city is primarily known for the holy sites that dot the river in the center of town, we were drawn here by Nashik’s nickname: “The Wine Capital of India.”

The B&B we chose was outside of town a bit, on the south side of Nashik, equidistant from downtown, the wineries, and the train station. We arrived late in the evening and had dinner at our B&B. Afterward, the staff helped us set up an autorickshaw for the next day that would take us to the two largest wineries in the area as well as to downtown Nashik to see the river and some of the temples.

The wineries don’t open until mid-morning, so we got to sleep in a bit. Our autorickshaw driver showed up at 10:30 to pick us up and we were off to our first destination, Sula Vineyards, about 30 minutes away. As we pulled into Sula’s long driveway, we saw pretty much what we expected: a new-looking, modern, beautiful vineyard and winery. Vines flanked the driveway with green grapes growing to our left and red grapes to the right.

The lounge area at Sula

The lounge area at Sula

At the end of the driveway is the building that houses the tasting room and, we would later learn, much of the winemaking machinery. The building is large and very well maintained, with two 10-foot stories, the higher of which opens up into a large open-air lounge area. It’s an impressive building with large glass double doors that evokes memories of some of the wineries we’ve visited back in the US. The grounds were beautiful. Tours kick off every hour on the half hour and come with your choice of 4 or 6 wines to taste (150 rupees or 250, respectively). We went inside and signed up for the next tour that left in 5 minutes. I opted for 6 wines, Danielle for 4.

The tour was brief. The guide began by gathering the group of us (about 30) and walking us off to the left of the main building to stand in the shade while he spoke. We were the only white people in the group, but the tour was conducted in English. He gave us an overview of Sula’s history, where the name came from, who owns it, and mentioned that the winemaking staff was headed up by someone from California. He then walked us to the side of the building where two large pieces of steel equipment sat. These, he explained, were used to crush the grapes. From there we went inside the side door to the building and encountered storage tanks, of which we got a brief description. Throughout, we were reminded that “it is like this all over the world.” Our guide then announced that the tour was over and it was time for the tasting, so we followed him into the tasting room. The tour had lasted no longer than 15 minutes, probably closer to 10.

Sula’s tasting room

The tasting room at Sula is very large, with a long stone island running down the length of it. We all gathered around the island, ready to taste. Our guide led the group through the tasting, and at this point it became different from tastings we have experienced before. In our prior experience, wine tasting is about showcasing the vineyard’s wine: describing the flavors and smells they expect you to experience in each wine, describing how each is made, and explaining what makes each different from the other. Instead, this tasting was a lesson in how to taste wine. We learned nothing about the wines at Sula beyond which grape(s) were used to make them. We did learn about the “four S’s”: see, swirl, smell, sip. We were reminded that “it is like this all over the world.”

We realized that unlike most tours/tastings we had participated in, this tour was likely comprised almost entirely of people doing this for the first time. This explained a lot about the tour – its brevity, its focus on facts, and our guide’s repeated reminders that “it is like this all over the world.” The tour was a showcase of Sula, sure, but was primarily intended to introduce a mostly Indian audience to a mostly new kind of tourism and a way to say, “Go forth into the world and taste wine! It is done the same way all over the world!”

As for the wine at Sula, neither of us liked it much. For the 100 extra rupees, Adam got to taste a sparkling rosé and a red of some kind. Of the 6, only the two sparkling wines were something we’d drink again. It was too bad, because the building and the grounds were gorgeous and we would have liked to sit in the second floor outdoor lounge and sip some wine. As it was, we found our driver and headed off to the second winery: York.

York is just down the road from Sula and it should have taken us about 5 minutes to get there. However, there was some kind of road construction occurring on the road between Sula and York, so our driver took us on a 15 minute detour though the back roads (and dirt roads) of rural Nashik. We can now conclusively state that off-roading in an autorickshaw is not comfortable.

The grounds at York aren’t as idyllic as those at Sula. It resembles a facility built for mass-producing wine first, and housing tourists second. After climbing 3 flights of stairs, we reached the open-air tasting room and found it deserted; just the two guys behind the counter and us. York doesn’t offer tours, so we sat at the bar in the tasting room and paid 200 rupees each to taste 7 wines. This tasting was more in line with our prior experience – the York staff referred to a menu that gave tasting notes on each wine, served us slowly, and talked to us about which wines they liked most. It was relaxing and fun.

The wines at York were much better than those at Sula. Nothing they had was spectacular or worth trying to ship home, but it was good wine and I ordered a glass and we sat to have lunch. The tasting room is quite high off the ground and looks out over the river and the sparsely populated area west of Nashik. Not breathtaking views, but a great place to sit and spend the afternoon with some wine.

At the end of the experience, we came away wishing that York and Sula could be combined: the visual elements and surroundings of Sula with the wines from York. That would be a great destination. As it was, we enjoyed both in their own way and were happy to spend some time learning about India’s budding wine industry. If you’re planning to visit Nashik, we recommend carving out some time to visit both. Save the extra 100 rupees at Sula though and just taste the 4 wines. You’ll need those 100 to order a glass of something more delicious at York!

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