From Grape To Glass: The Intricate Process Of Manufacturing India’s Top Wines
What goes behind the scenes at one of the best vineyards in India? We take a closer look
Until last week, everything I knew about wine boiled down to two facts: It is offered in three colours – Red, White and Rosé, and too much of it gives me a headache the next day. In my barely-adult, alcohol-drinking mind, I’ve often associated wine with the posh class who’d judge you for holding the glass the wrong way.
So, when the opportunity arrived to visit the Sula HQ in Nashik, I was a bit intimidated. At first, I did entertain the thought of sending someone else to cover the story — someone who hasn’t chugged half a bottle of questionable white from a coffee mug. But then, I thought, who better to tell the story of grapes to glass than someone like me who’s yet to discover the wine connoisseur’s alphabet?
Here’s a first-hand journey of how a wine-noob like me ventured into the seemingly daunting world of wines and wine-making, and came out as a newly minted “wine-snob”.
Before this trip, I did think the process of wine-making was as complicated as filing your taxes. So imagine my surprise, when I discovered that it essentially comes down to “squeeze grapes hard until the juices come out.” Before the snipers come out, let me just say, I am exaggerating. But Sula’s Tour & Tastings expert, Amritpal, did an amazing job at explaining the basics.
If you want white wine, you remove the skin and process the grapes. If you want red, you keep the skin and then squeeze the grapes. For rosé, it is a combination of both. Once the juices are extracted it is treated with yeast, which produces carbon dioxide during fermentation. White wines usually have more CO2 than reds, giving them their signature lighter or sparkly taste. The whole process does sound very similar to how beer is made. This is something I did embarrassingly ask Amritpal, to which he replied to in an affirmative.
But the process doesn’t end here. There are many permutations and combinations you can use to store your wine. The more affordable, quick-consumption ones are stored in huge metal containers and then bottled. The more premium ones like the Rasa and Dindori, are aged and stored in a wooden barrel for a while.
Now, there are two types of wooden barrels used here — a French Oak one and an American Oak one. In the French one, your wine gets a smooth, subtle flavour. In the American one, you get an expressive and a loud taste…just like Americans.
During our interaction, I did ask Amritpal about the right way to store wines, as someone who cannot necessarily afford a wine cellar at this point. The answer is the vegetable compartment in your refrigerator.
A Masterclass With The Expert
Right, we know (very briefly) how wine is made. But how do you drink it “correctly”? This is where I had a bone to pick, remember? To resolve this folks at Sula arranged an interaction with their Global Ambassador, Grégoire Verdin, possibly the most humble wine connoisseur, and person I’ve ever met.
He was far removed from my unfair perception of a moustache-twirling, snobby wine (or whine) expert. During our more than an hour-long conversation, he busted many, many misconceptions I had about the culture of wine drinking.
One of them is the difference between wine glasses. Without mentioning the aforementioned mug incident, I did ask Grégoire, why do we have over half a dozen glassware options to pour a drink? To which, he explained saying, each wine has a different characteristic. A sparkling wine, for example, has a lot of carbonation. By using a flute-type glass, you can trap those bubbles and retain the flavours.
Naturally, my next question was why do we need to hold the glass in a certain way? By the stem, for instance. To which, the answer has more to do with the temperature than etiquette. In a country like ours, where the only weather option is summer and not summer, the temperature of our fingers can greatly affect the taste of the wine, if we hold the glass by the shell. Hence, the stem.
My next question was about the swirling and if it was necessary. Grégoire, answered by saying it is not. But swirling your wine helps it in opening up, thus giving you more aroma and flavour when you drink it. I did test this out right there, and, no surprises here, he was right.
With the basic questions out of the way, we did have a lot more interaction about the culture and the differences between the wine sold here vs in Europe, which I hope we could post as a separate story someday.
However, one prevailing question I had was, how is Indian wine perceived abroad? Here I was expecting a PR-ish answer from Grégoire, but he did genuinely believe that the perception is improving year by year. Sula has won Silver & Bronze medals in the Decanter World Wine Awards, which is no laughing matter.
My last question was how do you get into this seemingly intimidating world of being a wine expert? To which, his answer was simple: “By drinking more wine.”
The (Glassy) Gates Of Paradise
Pardon the exaggeration, but I did have a Keanu Reeves moment, as soon as our car entered the property. Thankfully, my colleague next to me didn’t hear the “Whoa” I muttered to myself under my breath. Spread across 30 acres, the Sula property is huge. The first thing you notice is a now-pruned vineyard right at the entrance. I was later told that it was one of the first-ever batches company CEO, Rajeev Samant harvested after his return from the States.
Venturing further into the property, you’ll notice a variety of stay options. This ranges from Tree Houses, Apartment-type rooms and Suits. They are all inter-connected by very European-looking walkways. It is quite easy to get lost here if you aren’t paying attention to the signboards. And yes, I did not pay attention and did get lost a couple of times. But each time I discovered something new: the pool area, the spa, and other cool spots, so I didn’t mind the extra-long walk.
The XXL Rooms
I’ve been to many hotels and resorts for work and none of them has ever welcomed me with a glass of rosé, until Sula happened. Although, in hindsight, it does make sense considering the context of the place. After that refreshing (and much needed) glass of pink, we were ushered to our room, which my colleague described as “bigger than average apartments in Bombay.”
Called the Grand Cru room, everything in here was a subtle nod to wine, from the various magazines laid out on the coffee table, to the decor of the place. In case we wanted a not-so-subtle nod, we could always open up the window, and take a look at the vineyard, which thanks to the perfect weather, looked mesmerizing.
One of the few things I noticed early was that you don’t necessarily have to stay at the property to enjoy it. Sula does offer the options of a guided tour across the property for an affordable price. Overall, you can spend anywhere from Rs 200 to over Rs 20,000 here (including a night stay at one of their suites), without ever visiting the gift shop.
The other thing which impressed me was Sula’s stance on sustainability and providing jobs for the local economy. Sula claims around 70 percent of its property is self-sustainable via solar panels, composting and a variety of different things. The vineyard also employs an average of one person from each family, across the surrounding villages.
I went in to to this experience with my preconceived and unfair notions, and came out of it more interested in wines. In case you ever invite me to a BYOB, you’ll know what I’ll be carrying.