By Vidya Sury
So far we've brought you wine trails and tours from various parts of the world, highlighting some of the top wineries to visit. We've recently been to Texas wine trails and gone apple picking and wine tasting through Hudson Valley.
Today, we travel a bit farther to visit the top five wineries in India.
A brief introduction to India's wine history before we hit the wine trail
Interestingly enough, India got her first vines from Persia around 500 BC. However, commercial viticulture flourished only in the 19th century. It hasn’t been an easy journey, what with opposition from religious factions and prohibition being forced by local laws. Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped the expansion of the wine industry thanks to recent economic reforms and innovations by wine producers. Since Indian climate conditions are not ideal for wine-growing, most of India’s wineries are in the southwestern region – in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, where the elevation and cool climate helps grapes flourish.
Wine growing areas in Maharashtra include Nashik, Sangli, Sholapur, Satara, Ahmednagar and Pune. In Karnataka it is the Nandi Hills in the outskirts of Bangalore. We also have wineries in other states where the weather is suitable.
Although grape production is high, much of it is used as table grapes and raisins and only about 10% is made into wine. But yes, we do make international red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Zinfandel, and white wines such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette and Sauvignon Blanc. Wines vary from heavy, alcoholic fortified wines to sparkling and still wines.
I am going to take you through a tour through some of India’s best wineries comprising of 5 Maharashtra's wineries and one in Karnataka, simply because I spent half my life in Mumbai, Maharashtra and now live in Karnataka.
Of course, once you’re done with your wine tour, you’ll naturally want to explore more of the area you are visiting and I’ve included some info at the end.
Pick February-March for your India wine tour, as this is harvest time and guarantees the most delightful experience. Also, you would have escaped the monsoons and will enjoy pleasant weather.
You can choose to arrive in Mumbai. Hire a cab to Nashik, roughly 165 kilometers away. This is a two and a half hour ride. Dress comfortably. And pack your camera, binoculars and VinGardeValise. Let me also mention here that you can make day trips to each of these wineries from Mumbai, but you could also easily combine 2-3 in a day.
Nashik wine tour
Nashik is India’s Napa Valley and a picturesque location in the Western Ghats. It is also India’s wine capital and produces some of India’s finest wines. Wine harvesting time is between February and March and this is a good time to visit.
There are almost 50 vineyards in Nashik and you can enjoy wine tasting, buy wine at discounted prices and carry home your favorites in your wine carrier. Since the wineries are rather widespread, hire a cab to take you around.
Let’s begin our Nashik wine tour!
Grover Zampa Winery, Nashik
Grover Zampa Winery is located in the Nashik Valley in Maharashtra. It was originally established in 1989 in Karnataka at the foot of the ethereal Nandi Hills, which we’ll visit later. In 2012, they merged with Maharashtra’s Vallee de Vin and owner of the Zampa brand to compete with Sula. The Nashik winery is in Sanjegaon off the Mumbai-Nashik highway. There are good hotels to stay nearby and the winery will also help you find accommodation, should you choose to stay over.
Wine tours are conducted between 9.30 and 5 pm at a nominal charge. The tour begins in the grape receiving area with a history of the vineyard and vine cultivation info, after which you actually head to the vineyard where you can spend a little time and take pictures. The tour continues at the winery, followed by wine tasting. Photography is not allowed in this area. Next up is the Barrel room, with oak barrels and an old world ambiance where the wine tasting session is held around an old oak table. You can take pictures here. There is a choice between 5-7 varietals from the Grover or Zampa brand. After the wine tasting, it is time for lunch.
Tip: While booking your tour, you must let them know if you’ll stay for lunch as they don’t have an on-site pantry. Food is arranged from outside.
Their wines include One tree hill (red and white) which is a blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Zinfandel, Zampa Chenin Blanc, Zampa Soiree Brut, Chene - Signature blend of Tempranillo and Syrah, Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection Red - from Cabernet Sauvignon - Shiraz & Viognier, La Reserve, Art Collection - Cabernet Shiraz, Sante Chenin Blanc and Raya Red. Decide which ones to carry back with you in your VinGardeValise!
Sula Winery, Nashik
Sula, a world-class vineyard, is India’s most well-known winery established in 1999 and has a market share of 70%. It is just outside Nashik, about 20 minutes from the town. You’ll get to enjoy the Sula Fest which is also in February besides a tour of the vineyard and wine tasting. If you like, you can take a quick wine course and participate in the fun events at the Fest. There is a wine resort very close to the winery where you can stay. It is a good idea to book ahead.
Their wine tours are quite educational and you can taste their famous Sula wines, relaxing in their tasting room from where there are fabulous views of the vineyards, lakes and hills. See why I mentioned the binoculars? Enchanting views, great selection of food and wine and a tranquil atmosphere are guaranteed. Wine tasting comes with a cheese and dry fruit platter to complement the wine. You can also opt to have a meal, or just wind up with snacks.
Sula_Vineyards photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Sulawines1234&action=edit&redlink=1
Sula makes red, white, rose, sparkling and dessert wines in various price segments. Their white wines are acknowledged as India’s best whites. Their top wines are Dindori Reserve Shiraz, Sula Sauvignon Blanc, Sula Blush Zinfandel, Sula Brut and Late Harvest Chenin Blanc and you can buy them at discounted rates at their store.
Chateau d'Ori Winery, Dindori
Chateau d’Ori is a 30-minute ride north of Nashik along the Nashik Dindori road and located at the foot of the Nhera-Ori Hills in Dindori. This is the second largest winery in Nashik and spread across 400 acres, producing top quality award-winning red wines. Known for its rare straight Merlot, Myra wines and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the vineyard boasts a posh guest house set near an artificial lake right in the middle of grape vines that could make for a nice little holiday. If you book a stay package for one night, it will include stay for two people, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning, a tour of their winery and vineyard, wine tasting, and a complimentary half bottle of wine.
The winery is built just like the ones in Bordeaux, France with over seventy large stainless steel tanks to store and ferment the wine. Every hour, 3000 bottles are bottled and labelled. There are over 500 oak barrels where the wine is matured.
The Chateau d’Ori winery is one of the few that grows and uses its own grapes to make its wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. They currently produce five red, two white and one rose table wine. You’ll certainly want to carry back their Chenin Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay. They make the best Cabernet Shiraz blend in India, and a rare straight Merlot, and are also the only ones to make a Cabernet Merlot.
York Winery, Nashik
This is the family-friendly winery you want to reach well before sunset, because you mustn’t miss wine tasting at sunset as you relax with your glass, gazing at the rolling hills and Gangapur dam reservoir. York Winery offers wine tours in the afternoon rounded off by sunset wine tasting featuring its award winning red and white wines. One of its outstanding reserve blends is the Arros, a combo of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, born in 2014. York also has a sparkling wine, the York Sparkling Brut made from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes which you’ll want to take home. And oh, did I mention free wine tasting? Yes. You’re welcome.
Fratelli Winery, Sholapur
This place has an interesting history. Established in 2007 by three pairs of brothers from Italy, Delhi and Maharashtra, Fratelli has some of the best reserve wines. It proudly offers the Sette reserve red, Vitae (Chardonnay) and Vitae Tre, a blend of Muller Thurgau, Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc. The winery organizes wine tours and wine tasting. Since it is located in Akluj, Sholapur, almost 300 km from Mumbai, stay overnight at the winery guesthouse for a great experience. Expect attentive staff, great food, fantastic wines from one of the cleanest vineyards ever. Kid-friendly, too! During the tour, you can see juicy grapes on their vines. They also arrange a trip to their second vineyard in Garad. Just make sure they’re open before you go.
What else can you do in and around Nashik?
As I said, it is a major pilgrimage destination with its connection to the Hindu epic Ramayana. So be done with your wine tour before you go sightseeing. Top places to visit in the city are Ramkund, also home to the 2015 Nashik Kumbh Mela. As temples go, Nashik has more than a hundred with most of them located along the sacred Godavari river that flows right through the city. There are the Buddhist Pandavleni caves, a group of 24 rock cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BC about 10 kilometers from Nashik. Best time to visit is early in the morning as it can get really hot on the 30-minute uphill trek. 30 kilometers west of Nashik is the Trimbakeshwar temple, a Shiva shrine. Enjoy hiking? Then head to Brahmagiri Hill, the source of the Godavari river.
Buddhist Pandavleni caves. photo credit https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Katyare
After your visit to Nashik, fly down to Bangalore in Karnataka from where it is just a day trip to the Grover Zampa winery at the foot of Nandi Hills. Some of India’s world-class wines are produced here.
Grover Zampa Winery, Bangalore
Merely 40 kilometers to the north of Bangalore, and famous for its red grapes, Grover Vineyards is one of India’s oldest wineries and spreads across 410 acres in Dodballapur near Nandi Hills. Started in 1989, the vineyard has seen three generations of the Grover family. Around 2001, France started buying wine from Grover Vineyard.
The property is full of gorgeous wine trails with organized wine tours. You’ll also get to see two more of their vineyards usually closed to the public. Wine tours include lunch, a visit to the winery and a 90-minute wine tasting experience with 5 varietals: 2 white, 2 red and 1 rosé. The winery also has a beautiful barrel room where the wine tasting happens, served with cheese and crackers. You can opt for lunch outdoors. Don’t forget to buy their premium wines at a discount. Also, carry your binoculars for some spectacular bird watching.
The vineyard organizes the Great Grover Wine Festival in February each year with wine tasting, wine stomping, live bands, flea market and a whole lot of exciting activities. Top Wines by Grover Zampa Vineyards are Cabernet Shiraz, Viognier (Clairette),Shiraz Rose, La Reserve Red Wine.
Now that we’ve concluded our wine tour, it is time to explore.
Karnataka is a major tourist destination offering heritage spots, beaches, nature, wildlife, spiritual locations and adventure tourism and Bangalore is a good base from where to do it. The Karnataka Tourism Office organizes excellent affordable sightseeing tours, both local and intercity, so that’s worth checking out. There are plenty of good hotels to suit all kinds of budgets. Service apartments are also popular.
Bangalore, near where the Grover Zampa winery is located, is fondly referred to as the “garden city” for its very pleasant climate the year around and is also the IT hub of India. Rich in heritage, visitors can experience an unforgettable trip that includes just about anything they can dream of – fine dining, heritage walks, temple tours, monuments, forts, gardens, palaces, hill resorts, waterfalls, shopping districts, crafts villages – everything!
Since February is the harvest season and the ideal time for a wine tour, you’ll find the weather just glorious and perfect for some sightseeing. Be sure to pack a light jacket, comfortable clothes to keep that gentle chill off, and good walking shoes. While getting around in the city is easy with auto-rickshaws, cabs, buses and the metro rail, it is better to book a cab to give you the flexibility to stop en route to enjoy the sights.
So that’s it. Quick wine tour through India’s finest wineries, with the added bonus of taking in some fantastic local sights and a full VinGardeValise® to take home with those memories.