“Advancing the interest of our farmers is a priority”

Celebrating its 15th Anniversary, Sula Vineyards has much to be proud of, even as it looks forward with confidence to a rosy future. Monit Dhavale, Associate VP – Hospitality Monit Dhavale 2(pictured below) talks to Sommelier India correspondent, Brinda Gill  about recent developments at the winery

Please could you give some facts and figures about Sula Vineyard’s position in the Indian wine market?

Sula Vineyards will be producing close to one million cases of wine this year. With a portfolio of more than 35 labels, Sula holds more than 60% share in the domestic wine market. We use more than 1,000 barrels to produce some of the finest wines of the country such as Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon, Rasa Shiraz, Dindori Reserve Shiraz. We have planted two new black grape varietals – Pinot Noir and Tempranillo and a classic white grape variety – Chardonnay.

How is Sula strengthening its position as India’s largest producer of wines?

Sula Vineyards is India’s largest wine producer and the Indian consumer’s number one wine choice. Sula produces India’s best selling red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. Our wines are the market leaders in all price categories. One of the many new projects that Sula has taken on is to plant 500 acres more of wine grapes through contract farming.

Advancing the interest of our farmers is a priority ­and this effort will bring us one step closer not only to carrying on as India’s largest wine producer, but also to being an ethical employer, something we consciously strive for. The additional 500 acres brings the total vineyards under contract farming to 2,200 acres. This is over and above the 350 acres of vineyards owned by Sula.

Has this step brought benefits for the farmers?

Sula Vineyards is raising the prices of wine grapes by an average of 10% for the 2016 harvest, which will be a big boost for the respective farmers. This move will also help us to achieve the extra plantation target of 500 acres. Apart from the price hike, Sula has announced incentives to farmers who produce quality grapes.

Have there been any new launches?

Last year, we launched the Chenin Blanc Reserve, a wonderful, limited edition wine. This year, we launched our much anticipated, first ever Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon. We also launched the sweet and refreshing Seco Rosé.

Your winery is a very popular destination for visitors. Any new initiatives for making a winery visit memorable?

Sula is the pioneer of wine tourism in India. We built India’s first winery tasting room and opened the first boutique hotel in the middle of a vineyard. We were the first to conduct winery tours and tastings for the visiting public. We broadened the appeal massively by holding the first music festival at a winery in India and last year, in 2014, we received over 200,000 visitors!

Wine tourism is an essential part of the wine business worldwide and in a new wine country like India it has even more importance. By creating a beautiful destination and ensuring a simple, fun experience for visitors who don’t know a lot about wine, we are educating thousands of Indians about the joy of wine every year. We might be doing more to educate new wine drinkers at our vineyards than any other vineyard in the world!

The Taste & Buy weekly programme ­launched this year ­is a great initiative, where visitors can interact with winemakers. This is getting a huge response now and very soon we will make it twice a week on Saturdays and Sundays. Tastings, which are typically conducted by our experienced, well-trained staff, are led by winemakers during these sessions ­making the experience educational and quite special.

What can wine lovers look forward to from Sula this year? 

All in all we had a wonderful 2015 vintage. Although the weather was very variable, rain and hail did not affect our vineyards. All the wines produced are consistent and beautiful. Currently the white wines are ready and just released in the market.

However, there are two wines that are exceptionally good. The first is our Chenin Blanc Reserve, which is rich and concentrated with white fruit and melon flavours, and a lovely, textured mouth feel, with an extremely long finish. It is the perfect pairing for mild, spicy Indian starters and seafood.

The second wine is our Riesling, which is an aromatic delight. It is a light wine bursting with floral and citrus aromas, balanced with a touch of sweetness and tangy acidity. It goes well with mild Indian curries. In July, Kerry, our master winemaker, finalised the red wine blends for the 2015 vintage. He was pleased with the harvest and wines. So our patrons can look forward to some great wines!

Sula Vineyards

Gat 36/2, Govardhan Village
Off Gangapur-Savargaon Road
Nashik, Maharashtra 422222
T 0253 302 7777

The Tasting Room is open 11am to 11pm.
Soleil, the French restaurant at Sula Vineyards, is open on all days for lunch and dinner between 12.30pm and 3.30pm and from 7 pm to 10.30pm.

A version of this interview appears in print in Sommelier India Issue 5, October-November 2015