After much anticipation, I finally got to tour the Sula Winery and Vineyards with my wife Janice MacDonald and parents as part of our three week trip to India. Almost twenty years old, Sula Winery now produces approximately 1 million cases of wine of which 95% is sold domestically to Indian citizens who are just beginning to appreciate the finer elements of wine.
I love discovering areas of the world that are making wonderful unpretentious wines but are not thought of as being wine producing regions. I guess it must come from being in the wine business and operating from the Midwest. I often find myself defending how good Midwest wines can be even if they are not familiar to frequent wine drinkers.
I bet most of my readers don't think of India when they think of wine.
About 90 miles NE of Mumbai, in the town of Nashik, lies a wine producing region that will become a big player in the growing Asian market. Sula Winery is the leader and India's best known producer of wine. Sula makes a portfolio of both reds, whites, blushes and sparklers and all are very drinkable with Indian food that tends to be spicy and can be a challenge when pairing with wine.
Our tour, Mr. Ajoy Shaw, Sula's head wine maker, started with a quick walk around the fermentation tanks which we entered from the crush pad. The tanks are stainless steel and are made in India. The scene is very much like any modern winery in the US. Temperatures are regulated and controlled and there is plenty of capacity. Sanitation is at the forefront. Most impressive is the purposeful engagement of sustainable practices such as rain collection, solar energy, and reuse of grape waste for composting and fertilization of the estate vineyard.
We next viewed the barrel room where the red wines (primarily Shiraz, Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, and Malbec) are aged. Barrels are Missouri Oak and the room is misted and kept at a comfortable 55 degrees.
We were able to see the bottling of the sparkling wine made from a Chenin Blanc base. Sula uses traditional methods for its higher end sparkling wines which are a blend of three grapes (but not the traditional triumvirate found in France). We were able to view the bottling line and see the process of disgorgement, dossage, and corking. All the equipment is state of the art and would be the envy of any winery in Napa or Sonoma!
Mr. Shaw patiently answered all my questions regarding questions such as yeasts, tank sanitation, blending, vineyard management, and bottle suppliers. Thank you Ajoy!
After the walking tour enjoyed a brief tasting of varietals that we had not tried while in India on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and the Godavari River.
All in all a wonderful highlight of our trip to India!