Filling in the blancs: Indian wine is young, but maturing nicely

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Is this the new Napa Valley? Harriet O'Brien takes a trip to the vineyards of Nashik, near Mumbai, and discovers some fresh flavours to savour

Grapefruit with a twist of lime – not bad. I took another sip of Sula Sauvignon Blanc and was almost certain of a discreet hint of mango too.

I was having dinner at Ziya, the sleek Indian-meets-contemporary-European restaurant at the Oberoi's flagship hotel in Mumbai. The wine list here offers everything from Rhône Valley rosé to Stellenbosch merlot. Indian wines, too: it was a local Maharashtrian number that I was sampling.

I had first tasted Indian wine some five years previously on a river cruise in Assam. One rainy afternoon, a wine-tasting session was organised onboard our vessel and we sampled six Indian whites. It was not a very serious exercise. Once we'd got past the sulphurous bouquet, spitting was the spontaneous reaction.

Yet on a return trip to India two years later I happened to meet a New Zealand winemaker in Delhi. He was zealous about Indian wines. Back in the late 1970s the world laughed at New Zealand's wine efforts, he said. And he reckoned Indian viticulture was at just such a stage in its evolution. There was, he assured me, plenty of potential. Much of the challenge, he said, was in controlling over-fruiting and producing just one harvest.

This year's crop is just about to start coming in, and the results are mooted to be promising. But in any event, Indian wine has come a long way from the implausible product I sampled five years ago. Indeed, I had ample scope to enjoy it recently while travelling in Maharashtra, in the south of the country. In particular I had been hearing how the area around the town of Nashik (or Nasik), north-east of Mumbai, is becoming the Napa Valley of India – which sounded intriguingly surreal.

My first stop was the Oberoi Mumbai, partly because I had heard so much about the recent refurbishment of the hotel – it is now something of a symbol of the chic, modern face of India, its courtyard lobby a stylish black-and-white space dotted with artworks. More pragmatically, I was also visiting in order to meet one of the Oberoi's sommeliers and get a few pointers about Indian wine.

A Canadian graduate of oenology, Lindsay Groves joined the Oberoi group in 2009. The wine culture of India is expanding rapidly, she told me, and it reflects the country's huge changes in lifestyle, particularly for women. Wine drinking is still, of course, very new to India and often the consumers don't quite know what to expect in terms of taste and quality, but they are learning fast.

Her enthusiasm for India's wine was tempered with realism. This is the new frontier of wine production, she remarked, and while some boutique vineyards around Nashik are very promising, others produce quantities of a substance that can barely be called wine. She urged me to go and see for myself, particularly because a recognisable wine tourist industry is starting to take shape.

For all the acceleration of India's economic growth, hiring a car with a driver is still an affordable and easily arranged luxury in Mumbai. I simply wandered into a travel agent off bustling Colaba Causeway and arranged an early departure the next morning for a two-day trip to the Nashik area.

It takes just under four hours to drive the 115 miles from Mumbai to Nashik, which is set on the Godavari river at the edge of the Western Ghats range of hills. It's a curiously mixed bag type of place: a booming centre of heavy industry surrounded by picturesque farmland dotted with sacred sites. Hindus consider this one of the holiest regions of India.

Every 12 years the Kumbh Mela, reputedly the largest religious gathering in the world, takes place here (the next such event at Nashik is in August 2015). The Trimbakeshwar temple, 17 miles west of the town, is a magnet for pilgrims. Along the highway we passed streams of hard-core devotees clutching orange flags and walking all the way from Mumbai through sapping heat.

Approaching the outskirts of Nashik we skirted steelworks and turned down a dirt track. We were abruptly in a rural world of bullock carts, spindly brindled cows and fields of tomatoes and vines, with the Western Ghats, pummelled into weird shapes by the weather, forming a dramatic backdrop. I had given the driver the addresses of a few vineyards mentioned in India's Sommelier magazine and also by the Oberoi staff.

Our first port of call was Zampa, tucked away in a spectacularly lush series of glades now named Vallée de Vin (sic). I was shown around the 33-acre property by Nivrutti Dhawale, vineyard manager and viticulturist.

As we walked past rows of Syrah and Grenache, he explained that back in the 1920s the Nashik area became a major centre for growing grapes to eat. It was only in the late 1990s that wine vines were introduced and, less than 15 years later, there are now more than 45 vineyards in the region. Zampa has been producing wine for just three years and already there are plans to expand the business. Mr Dhawale took me to the top of a hill above the vines: this, he said, was where they were intending to build a small resort of 12 villas and a restaurant. We moved on to the winery where we tasted a series of pleasantly spicy reds and some slightly chalky whites. Mr Dhawale spoke with passion about the techniques of growing and, crucially, pruning vines in a monsoonal climate and he enthused about his ambition to create really high quality wines.

I had intended our next stop to be an equally go-ahead boutique vineyard. But road signs in the area are sporadic and Mercury Winery eluded us. Ali, the driver, kept asking passing locals for directions to "the wine factory", discrimination between producers evidently playing no part in his estimation of this new industry, and we wound up at random at the Renaissance winery. The Aher family, proprietors and wine makers, were charming and proudly explained that they produce about 700,000 litres annually, selling to ready markets across India. They were delighted to take me on a tour and show me their latest product, a canned drink called "Rio" – which turned out to be carbonated wine. "Just like champagne," I was told. I managed a couple of sips and tasted a small selection of murky whites before extracting myself politely.

After an overnight stop in Nashik, my first destination the next morning was Trimbakeshwar temple set by the Godavari river and backed by fantastically shaped hills. Non Hindus may not enter the large basalt shrine, but for a foreigner the joy of coming here is in soaking up the vibrant atmosphere. Pilgrims thronged the surrounding area which was awash with stalls selling sugar cane, toys, lucky charms, and flowers. Cows wandered through the crowds, munching on offerings of grass and marigolds that were thrown their way. The atmosphere was joyous.

Our final stopping point was Sula winery about 20 minutes' drive from the temple. We followed a couple of cars, filled to the brim with families, up a driveway through neat rows of vines, and arrived in California. Or so I might have been half-forgiven for thinking.

Here, amid burgeoning grapes, was an attractive and well signposted complex with two stylishly informal restaurants (one Mediterranean, one Indian), an amphitheatre, and a visitor centre with shop, laid-back café-cum-tasting area, and gallery showing the story of wine in the area. I checked in at the front desk for one of their guided tours – which depart hourly.

Devised as a Napa Valley-style vineyard, Sula is the best known of India's wineries, and the most successful in terms of brand recognition – with a striking logo of a smiling, moustachioed sun. The winery is the creation of Rajeev Samant, an Indian economist whose working life started with a stint in Silicon Valley, California. In the mid-Nineties he returned to his family's 30-acre estate near Nashik, which he subsequently turned into a Californian-inspired destination winery. Over the last 13 or so years the operation has grown enormously and today Sula manages 1,500 acres and produces a range of very pleasing wines, from chardonnay to rosé and shiraz.

Tour over, I wandered the shop, thronged with enthusiastic day-trippers buying Sula souvenirs – chocolates, keyrings, T-shirts and jute bags – as well as wine. Then I joined the happy groups of wine tasters and sat out on the generous balcony of the adjoining café. A glass of chenin blanc in hand, I gazed over a panorama of vines; the new flavour of India laid out before me.

Travel Essentials

How to get there

Harriet O'Brien travelled to Mumbai with Western & Oriental (020-7666 1234; The city features in a number of its itineraries including the 12-night "Rajasthan in Style" tour visiting Delhi, Rajasthan and Mumbai, and costing from £3,685 per person. The price covers return flights from Heathrow, accommodation, all meals, private driver and private guided sightseeing. The company can also tailor-make tours to include trips to Nashik from Mumbai.

Mumbai is served direct from Heathrow by Air India (020-8560 9996;; British Airways (0844 493 0787;; Jet Airways (020-8970 1525;; Kingfisher (0800 047 0810;; and Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747;

Staying there

Harriet O'Brien stayed at the Oberoi Mumbai (00 91 22 6632 5757;; doubles from R13,500/£184). She travelled from Mumbai to Nashik with Traveline Holidays, off Colaba Causeway (00 91 22 2282 9613). Car hire with driver, and one night at a clean if slightly basic hotel in Nashik cost R8,500 (£114) for the two-day trip.

Vineyard visits

Zampa Vineyards, Vallée de Vin, Gat 967 at Post Sanjegaon, Nashik, Maharashtra (00 91 25 5320 4379;

Renaissance Restaurant and Wine Lounge, Gat 2317 Mumbai-Agra Road, Ozar, Nashik, Maharashtra (00 91 92 2512 4624; renaissancewineryindia. net).

Sula Vineyards, Gat 36/2, Govardhan, Off Gangapur-Savargaon Road, Nashik, Maharashtra (00 91 25 3223 1663;

Emerging wine producers

Sophie Lam


Chiang Mai hosted the 2011 International Symposium on Tropical Wines, reflecting the growth in Thailand's wine industry. There are three wine producing regions, the most distinguished wines coming from the north. Here, the Chateau de Loei is regarded as a pioneer and offered its first bottles to the market in 1995 (

Granmonte Family Vineyard, in the Asoke Valley, two hours north-east of Bangkok, has won awards for its syrah and chenin wines, and also offers a guesthouse for visitors keen to explore the vineyard in depth (

Winery tours are now emerging, with more unusual offerings including elephant-back exploration of the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard (


Wines from Turkey languished at the bottom of the pile for decades but they have undergone a transformation. The existence of a 200 per cent domestic tax on wine has encouraged exports. The quality has also been aided by expert consultants from France and the US

The three main production areas are: the Aegean, centred on Izmir; Central and Eastern Anatolia; and the Euphrates valley, one of the world's oldest wine areas.

As well as international varieties, such as cabernet and chardonnay, indigenous varieties are grown such as the white sultaniye and narince grapes and red bogazkere and okuzgozu. Winery tours are offered by the TransBalkan Travel Service (


China is increasing its wine production in response to a growing domestic demand – it is Bordeaux's biggest export client. At a blind tasting of cabernet sauvignon from China's Grace Vineyard last month, wine from China's remote Ningxia region beat Bordeaux wines on a panel of five French and five Chinese wine experts. Moët Hennessy is also planning to set up a winery and cultivate vines in Ningxia to produce sparkling wine. China Wine Tours runs trips that take in China's historic sites as well as several of its wineries (


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree is to be made into a series of films

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree really is being made into a film

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London