It’s Friday afternoon and the tasting room at Sula Vineyards is packed with couples, families, and groups of friends. A bus has just pulled up disgorging a gaggle of laughing schoolboys and girls on a field trip at the winery. Every weekend, Mumbaiites and Punekars throng Sula Vineyards, whether they are wine drinkers or not. And therein lies its charm.
While the winery’s luxury hotel, Beyond by Sula, is a great option, it is a 20-minute drive away from the winery and vineyards (along a bumpy kachha road to boot). This makes the recently opened The Source at Sula an attractive place to stay for a wine-fuelled weekend or more.
Built adjoining the first of Sula’s vineyards, The Source is a charming 23-room boutique retreat. Its sunny yellow facade and terracotta roof channel the Tuscan look; the arched windows and louvered shutters add to the ambience. It’s almost lunchtime when I arrive from Mumbai. A glass of sparkling wine keeps me company while the check-in formalities are completed. I have one of the Vineyard View Suites named Champagne (all rooms are named after grape-growing regions). The suite is done up in shades of grey with seemingly vintage and distressed furnishings in the living room and the bedroom. I step out on one of the two balconies of my suite for a view of the sprawling vineyards. In the distance, I can see Gangapur Lake glinting in the afternoon sun. I look wistfully at the neighbouring Tree Houses, wooden cottages on sturdy iron trunks, with large bay windows and balconies overlooking the vineyards. I had very much wanted to stay in one of them, but all four of them were sold out that weekend.
I make my way to the restaurant for lunch. There’s a choice between Soma for Indian and Little Italy for Italian meals. I opt for a Mediterranean pizza with artichokes at the latter, along with a refreshing glass of The Source Grenache Rosé. It is India’s first rosé made with Grenache grapes and you can sample its citrusy and tropical fruit notes only at the vineyard (it’s currently not available at retail outlets). In the evening, I get a tour of the winery and a crash course in winemaking. I am just in time to see a truckload of freshly harvested Sauvignon Blanc grapes arrive at the winery. Crates filled with tightly bunched, small, round green grapes are emptied onto a conveyor belt, which carries them to their demise into the wine press. The juice is extracted here and transferred to tall steel tanks where the fermentation is carried out. I then proceed to the tasting room where I sample five-six different wines from the Sula repertoire, including the aromatic Riesling and the full-bodied Rasa Shiraz.
The next day is dedicated to exploring the city of Nashik. I huff and puff up the seemingly interminable stone steps leading up to Pandav Leni, a group of 24 caves carved on a hillside sometime between first century B.C. and circa third century A.D. Some caves have large sculptures of the Buddha, while others have inscriptions scribbled in Brahmi script. Elaborately carved pillars and large stone columns abound. There’s a lookout that gives a bird’s-eye view of Nashik. I descend back into town and check out a few of the religious sites that Nashik is known for, like the Kalaram Temple dedicated to Lord Ram, and the Ganga Ghat.
Back at The Source, I have a spa appointment waiting. The signature grapeseed oil massage is relaxing and a much-needed antidote to my aching limbs. That night, I dine at Soma where I’m treated to a series of delectable kebabs and spicy biryani, all paired with a glass of Rasa Shiraz, which is fast becoming my favourite Sula wine. As I walk back to my room, I look up at the star-spangled night sky just in time to see a shooting star streak past. Away from the lights and bustle of the city, I feel The Source working its magic on me. Or perhaps it’s the wine.
The Source at Sula is located next to the tasting room of Sula Vineyards, off Gangapur-Savargaon Road in Nashik. It is 180 km/3 hr northeast of Mumbai. Regular, direct flights now connect Mumbai to Nashik. The two cities are well connected by rail too. Sula Vineyards is 35 km / 1 hr southwest of Nashik airport, and 22 km/ 50 min northwest of Nashik railway station (www.sulawines.com; doubles from Rs7,000).