With splendid new wine initiatives, The Lodhi New Delhi is the place to go for wine lovers. Kanika Dhawan speaks to Robyn Bickford about the hotel’s changing winescape.
Robyn Bickford, joint General Manager with her husband, Manav Garewal of The Lodhi Hotel in New Delhi has an abiding interest in wine that goes back to her childhood. Born in the ‘Chardonnay capital of New Zealand’ – Gisborne, Robyn’s father had a great palate. Some of the vineyards in and around the area, such as Millton, would send over their best pick of grapes for him to convert into trial batches of the new season’s wine. “Even though he was a big whisky drinker at one point of time, he made fantastic wine,” says Bickford.
Before moving to this hotel five years ago, Robyn and Manav were taking care of the Mughal-styled retreat, Amanbagh in Alwar, two hours from Jaipur and a short drive from one of the habitats of the famed Bengal Tiger – Sariska National Park. Comparing her life at the two resorts, Robyn describes Amanbagh as being “very remote where 70% of the staff was local, but the guests were mostly foreigners.” The Lodhi, on the other hand is a big contrast. “It is a dynamic city hub buzzing with local people.”
“It’s a different animal altogether,” observes Robyn. Needless to say, this “animal” is in the hands of two people who nurture it with great love and care. The Lodhi, which, until February 2013, was called The Aman New Delhi, boasts an exciting new look, with refurbished interiors, plenty of breathing space, and an occasional, yet appropriate, shock of colour.
The hotel, with its 40 rooms and suites, was originally designed by Australian designer Kerry Hill – an influential figure in the field of hotel design. In 2012, it was extensively refurbished to bring in more colour and comfort. Walls in the courtyard were brought down, heavy, dark carpeting removed and the interiors turned around to give the hotel a more airy feel. The collaboration with the Apparao galleries bring changing and vibrant colour to the walls, giving a gallery like perspective to many parts of the hotel with understated luxury.
But how does one define luxury – it can be as simple as a quiet and secluded personal space to which one can retreat or it can be more visual ostentation. Or more simply, it can be the luxury of time to enjoy a glass or two of great wine and accompanying tastes without having to race to yet another meeting or take yet another call!
The Lodhi has three dining areas – Elan Restaurant and Bar with its adjoining courtyard for al fresco dining, the all-day Pool Café and On the Waterfront (OTW). There is a new event space, OTR or On the Rocks below OTW – a multi functional space for people to party, for a product launch or a day time conference. A great believer in Feng Shui and Vaastu, Robyn ensures that there’s a basic respect for the natural elements through the hotel. “It’s all about the energy!” she remarks.
The same freshness carries over into the food and wine service. In the days of The Aman New Delhi, the accomplished sommelier, Kavita Faiella, was in charge of their wines. She is now back as a consultant, as part of Robyn and Manav’s many new initiatives. “Kavita is bringing a much fresher approach to our wines – especially with regard to sourcing from smaller vineyards,” reveals Robyn.
The wines at the hotel range from Rs 3,000 to Rs 1,50,000. The hotel has a lot of cellared wines, which Robyn calls “sleepers,” as they don’t get taken so easily but which offer great value for the real wine connoisseur. International guests are opting for Indian wines like Fratelli and Sula, while Indians are drinking a lot of New World wines. “Indians between the ages of 30 to 40 years frequenting The Lodhi know their wines and vineyards really well. Wine is not a “special occasion” for them anymore, because they are well-travelled and know which wines to order to suit their palate and their choice of food,” says Robyn.
Over the coming months, she would like to see more wines from the smaller vineyards in Nashik as well as California, Australia and New Zealand that are easily quaffable at the hotel, as she loves the vigour of such wines.
“I also love the Pinot Noir from cool climates – I love the subtlety. I like the way it offsets food.” The Lodhi is also aiming to offer more wines by the glass, priced between Rs 500 and Rs 1,500, so that guests have an option to order wine with every course without having to buy a whole bottle. “Mid-range wines always work better,” notes Robyn.
Even though wine per se is in big demand, there’s still a challenge that continues to puzzle Robyn – the pairing of Indian food with wine! “It’s not a natural partnership,” she says. “It’s easier to match wine with Thai, Chinese or other foods. Though lighter Pinots go better than full-bodied Shiraz and drier Rieslings work well in cutting through the masalas, we need something that is a better match.”
Nevetheless, things are looking up for Indian wine. Recently, for a birthday party at the hotel, somebody ordered a Chandon Rosé. “We should be proud of it,” says Robyn. According to her it’s “more wine awareness” that will help people better enjoy the complementary nuances of food and wine. Added to this is the ongoing terroir development in many parts of India, which is arguably the most important part of winemaking. “India has amazing soils. We should go regional about wine varieties with the concept of ‘terroir’ as we are about the regional origins of our food.”
But Robyn’s wish list doesn’t end at terroir. As a devotee of wine, she yearns for wine in India to be enjoyed with compatible companions such as artisanal cheeses and olives. “I hope they will be made and grown in India on a larger scale. We have wonderful cow, goat and buffalo milk and great potential to produce olives.”
What is greater is the stimulation that food and wine offer as a pair. Robyn says, “Wine is a great enhancer of mood and palate and also of friendship and conversation and let’s not forget digestion! It stimulates all our senses, rather like India itself does!”