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Vibrant vines of India

The new beginnings of the Indian wine scene offer rich pickings to those that explore the vineyards of this enchanting subcontinent. With its ruined temples, tropical greenery, mystic mountains, and spiritual caves, the Indian wine landscape has much to tempt the adventurous oenophile.

Vast in size, you could spend a lifetime visiting India and still not experience the entirety of its cultural complexity, chaos and colorful landscape. It is a place that captivates the imagination and assaults the senses, with its expansive borders encircling frozen mountains, tropical beaches, green plantations and sun-baked plateaus, interwoven in a mosaic of bustling cities, temples and caves of past civilizations. With such diversity on offer, deciding upon an itinerary is a difficult task, and perhaps the best way to travel is to explore just a small corner of this compelling country. Luckily for the oenophile, there is a new addition to this cornucopia of attractions that allows for a leisurely and intriguing trip: Indian vineyards.

The contemporary and burgeoning Indian wine scene, originating in the early 1980s, is perhaps surprising. In the past, government policies and religious practices have encouraged prohibition, and grape growing is unpredictable in a tropical climate, challenging pioneering winemakers. Despite this, a small wine industry is growing, and in some areas is positively thriving, drawing the gaze of the international audience. In the modern and rugged State of Maharashtra in the south, warm days, cool nights and fertile sloping lands have provided the perfect conditions for viticulture, often referred to as the “Napa Valley of India”. Although comparisons have been made between India and some well-known viticultural regions, it is unique in the fact that it has at least two grape crops per year. This is due to the climate, with two seasons—a wet hot summer and a cooler winter—preventing vine dormancy, since growth restarts immediately after harvest here. In some more southerly regions, there can even be three harvests per annum, yet almost all wineries will only use the grapes from the harvest after winter.

Although the vineyard area of India may cover only 1.94 percent of that of Bordeaux, and is confined to the south, its lush vineyards, exceptional hospitality, and well-developed winery infrastructure make for an unforgettable wine tour. The best time of year to visit is during the grape harvesting season from January to March, where conditions are pleasant, the vines alive with activity, and the monsoon season and crowds brought by the summer months can be avoided.

Mumbai, the capital port city of Maharashtra, offers an entry point to visitors. As an introduction to India, the dynamic energy and fast-paced life of the city may seem overwhelming at first, but will give you a sense of the diversity of people, lifestyles, architecture, and cuisines. It is home to the Bollywood film industry, grand colonial-era buildings, curious bazaars, as well as the biggest tropical forest in an urban space. Its gastronomic prowess is a reason to visit by itself, with flavors, aromas and produce from all over India and the world accumulating in a mouthwatering mélange of street stalls and premier restaurants. Good wine can be difficult to come by in India’s restaurants due to the infancy of the industry, however, Mumbai offers a decent selection. Among them is The Table, serving a comprehensive list focused on Indian wines (www.thetable.in); Indigo Delicatessen (www.indigodeli.com); The Tasting Room, whose menu is designed to compliment the wine list and celebrates a strong Indian representation (www.goodearth.in); and Pali Village Café, inspired by Parisian streets and French excellence.

Around two and a half hours from Mumbai by car is Nashik, the wine capital of India. The town is a holy site on the banks of the Godavari River, visited by Hindu pilgrims who come to pray and bathe in the many ghats and temples. Recently, wine lovers have joined the religious masses on the journey to this area, where the majority of India’s vineyards are found. Principal among them is Sula Vineyards (www.sulawines.com), whose 3,000 acres and market share of more than 70 percent of the Indian wine industry attracts over a quarter of a million visitors per year. In the winery, tanks and oak barrels tower above the visitor, and eco-friendly light tunnels direct sunlight into the expansive hall. Well set up for tourists, Sula also boasts India’s first wine resort and a luxury property, “Sky Villa”, offering magnificent views over Gangapur Lake. The highlight of a trip to Sula, and perhaps of the Indian wine calendar, is Sulafest, a wine and music carnival hosted in the winery’s own amphitheater in February, rivaling those of the Spanish fiestas. Following the success of Sula, some 35 other wineries have emerged in the surrounding area, many of which offer tours, tastings and accommodation, within easy reach of Nashik.

The next stop is Pune, a metropolitan city that unites the hallmarks of the colonial era with shiny modern shopping plazas, and like Nashik, boasts a wealth of up-and-coming wineries nearby. Inspired by the vinous legacies of the French vignerons, Four Seasons winery (www.fourseasonsvineyards.com) is modeled on a château and a spectacle to behold, exuding sophistication and regality that contrasts strikingly with the Indian landscape. Also of architectural note is the winery of Fratelli Wines (www. fratelliwines.in), resembling a futuristic flying saucer. Named after the three pairs of brothers that founded the winery, the focus is on Italian grapes, and its ambience and vineyard views are comparable to that of the classic wine destinations of Europe. Due to the wineries slightly isolated location, an overnight stay in these mystical surroundings is available.

It is worth taking time to explore the rest of Maharashtra state, from its palm-fringed beaches to ancient rocky monuments. Traveling east inland from Nashik you will find the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the caves of Ellora and Ajanta. These outstanding architectural constructions feature temples and monasteries laboriously hand-carved out of the high basalt cliffs over five centuries. The highlight is Kailasa Temple at Ellora, built by King Krishna I in AD 760, whose construction required the removal of 200,000 tons of rock using hand-tools alone, and covers twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens. Further east still is Tadoba Tiger Reserve (www.tadobanationalpark.in), which is one of the best places in India to spot the iconic and endangered tiger, alongside other magnificent animals such as sloth bears, leopards, jungle cats and tropical birds, and can be visited between October and June.

South of Maharashtra is Karnataka State, where some of India’s world class wines are produced in the astoundingly beautiful Nandi Hills and Kaveri Valleys. These vineyards are best experienced with an overnight stay, as the tranquil greenery and rolling hills make for a serene and relaxing break. Make sure to watch the sun set and the stars appear, of course accompanied by a glass of fine Indian wine.

At the heart of Karnataka is Bangalore, well connected to vineyards and historical sites by the road and rail network. The “Garden City” has a pleasant climate, and with its multitude of green spaces, and buzzing dining and shopping scene, it is a comfortable and more westernized base from which to explore. The states second city, Mysore, is an appealing one, enticing the visitor with its 19th-century palaces and vibrant spice and incense markets. Nearby is Alpine Wineries (www. alpinewineries.com), which, as the name suggests, is nestled among a spectacular backdrop of the peaks of Bangalore and Nilgiri Hills. Juxtaposed with the rural lyrical surrounds is the state-of-the art equipment, including four weather stations and technology sourced from over 15 countries, making it one of the most technically advanced wineries in Asia. Also found in this region are two of India’s indigenous grape varieties, Bangalore Blue and Bangalore Purple, although thus for have been minimally used in winemaking. Instead try the fresh Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs, or earthy and bold Cabernet Sauvignons and Shirazes, worthy partners to the spicy seasoning and big flavors of Indian cuisine.

Still intrigued by the Indian wine scene and in need of more guidance? Check out Peter Csizmadia-Honigh’s The Wines of India, providing an in-depth story-like exploration of the vinous history and geography of India’s wine producing regions, as well as detailed profiles of each Indian winery and the wines they produce.

Le Sutra

The three floors of this boutique art hotel are dedicated to the triple gunas (qualities) of Hinduism—tamas (darkness), rajas (passion), and sattva (goodness)—beautifully furnished with decorative pieces showcasing the concepts and characters of Hindu mythology. The cultural surrounds can also be enjoyed in the accompanying Olive Bar & Kitchen.
14 Union Park, Khar West, Pali Hill, Mumbai 400052 | +91 22 6642 0020 | www.lesutra.in

Indian Accent at The Manor

What Delhi lacks in vineyards it makes up for in restaurants. Widely recognized as the best is Indian Accent, which showcases an award-winning wine list and “Indian food for the 21st-century”. Diners can stay in attached luxury hotel, The Manor, in the heart of the city.
77 New Friends Colony West, New Delhi 110065 | +91 96 4338 0275 | www.themanordelhi.com

The Leela Palace

Ornately designed with gold-leaf domes, marble arches and decorative ceilings inspired by the spectacular architecture of the Royal Palace of Mysore, The Leela Palace offers a fairytale-like stay of luxury and grandeur, from its vast gardens to exemplary bars and restaurants.
23 Kodihalli, Old Airport Road, Bengaluru 560008 | +91 80 2521 1234 | www.theleela.com

The Green Hotel

A sustainable luxury hotel set in the restored Chittaranjan Palace has perhaps the best gardens in Mysore, in which breakfast is served, as well as sumptuous rooms and a restaurant where Indian champagne can be enjoyed.
Chittaranjan Palace, 2270-Vinoba Road, Karnataka 570012 | +91 82 1425 5000 | www.greenhotelindia.com

The Oberoi

The world-acclaimed five-star hotel on the exclusive Marine Drive has views over the Mumbai skyline and Arabian Sea, a spa, and exclusive champagne lounge. Its contemporary and gold-adorned Indian restaurant, Ziya, offers a menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia and an attached wine library.
Nariman Point, Mumbai 400021 | +91 11 2389 0606 | www.oberoihotels.com

Khyber at Fort

In the arts and heritage district of Mumbai, Khyber has been serving authentic and revered north-Indian cuisine for fifty years. Catering to celebrities and fine-diners alike, all come running to taste the famous masala sauce, seated beside the murals of turbaned Mughal royalty, golden oil lanterns and antique urns.
145 MG Road, Fort, Mumbai 400001 | +91 22 4039 6666 | www.khyberrestaurant.com

For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.

York Winery

Boasting one of the most picturesque tasting rooms in India, this award-winning vineyard combines spectacular views with high-quality wines.
Gat 15/2, Gangapur-Savargaon Road, Nashik 422222 | +91 25 3223 0701 | www.yorkwinery.com

Vallonné Vineyards

At the end of a dirt track winding through small villages and quaint farms is a boutique French-style winery. With a postcard-worthy view over the Mukane Reservoir and Sahyadri ridges, a visit should conclude with a sundowner from the hilltop winery.
Gat 504, Kavnai Shivar, Taluka Igatpuri, Nashik 422403 | +91 98 1912 9455 | www.vallonnevineyards.com

Grover Zampa

As one of the oldest producers in India, Grover Zampa does not disappoint. February is the month to visit, during “The Great Grover Wine Festival,” where you can taste the award-winning La Reserve brand of oak matured Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz reds, get stuck in with grape stomping, watch live bands or wander through the gorgeous trails throughout the vineyard.
63 Raghunathapura, Devanahalli Road, Bangalore 561203 | +91 22 6820 5441 | www.groverzampa.in

Chandon India

Möet & Chandon, one of the world’s leading Champagne houses, identified the potential of the Nashik terroir to produce premium quality sparkling wine, combining the best of local grapes with their signature méthode traditionnelle.
Gat 652 & 653, Village & Taluka Dindori, Nashik 422202 | +91 83 0897 9899 | www.chandon.co.in

Alpine Wineries

In a beautiful valley setting is Alpine Wineries, whose state-of-the-art technology and cool climate marry to produce deliciously rich old-world-like reds.
Banave, Karnataka 571122 | +91 98 4403 6353 | www.alpinewineries.com

Bangalore Soma Vineyards

Just an hour’s drive from Bangalore, the vineyard uniquely combines coconut groves and vines, feeling truly tropical. Tastings journey throughout the estate, each location chosen to amplify the sensory experience. Booking required.
Sonnenahalli, Karnataka 561204 | +91 80 2351 5055 | www.bangalorewine.co

Reveilo Winery

In a market dominated by French styles, Reveilo Winery brings Italian flair to India with varietals of Sangiovese, Nero d'Avola and Grillo, led by experienced winemaker Andrea Valentinuzzi. Visits to this Indian-cum-Italian vineyard are by appointment only.
Vintage Wines Private Limited, Maharashtra 400053 | +91 22 2637 0134 | www.reveilo.com

Château d’Ori

A short drive from Nashik is the ultra-modern and Bordeaux-stylized winery of Château d’Ori, which tempts visitors with vistas of windmills and mountain ridges, all visible from the lakeside farmhouse. Available for overnight stays.
Gat 529, Dindori Shivar, Nashik 422202 | +91 22 6506 4933 | www.chateaudori.com

Fratelli Wines

A new and dynamically growing winery offers one of the best locations for a wine tour, since its isolated hilltop setting has outstanding views; not forgetting the immaculate tasting rooms and comfortable guesthouses.
Gat 131, Zanjewadi Taluka, Malshiras, Solapur 413107 | +91 99 5888 0577 | www.fratelliwines.in