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Vineyard tourism thrives in India as domestic tourists enjoy memorable experiences like picnics and movie nights in wineries

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A dhaba in a vineyard. Did we hear that right?!

“It’s a wine dhaba,” laughs Grégoire Verdin, global brand ambassador/AVP Tastings and Marketing at Sula Vineyards. This — The Starlight Terrace — is the latest addition to their 30-acre property in Nashik where clients can dine under a star-spangled sky, on charpai-esque seating, as they sip on a variety of wine paired with food one would usually find in a dhaba. As it turns out, traditional Maharashtrian sev bhaji pairs beautifully with a cold, silky Chardonnay.

The Starlight Terrace, the wine dhaba at Sula
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Indian tourists, restless after two years of lockdowns, are looking for memorable domestic destinations now, as the pandemic and its fall out continue to make international travel challenging and expensive. In response, the country’s vineyards are pulling out all stops to offer new experiences.

There are personalised movie nights, customised picnics and wine tasting sessions, all of which you can participate in while staying in their thoughtfully curated boutique rooms and treehouses. Of course, in keeping with the heady theme, offerings include spas with wine baths, cycling through the vineyards and introductory classes to understanding wine.

A lazy day at Sula

A lazy day at Sula
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Soak in Merlot

“During the lockdown, people rediscovered Indian wines. For a lot of them it turned out to be different from what they had in mind,” says Grégoire, adding that people began to appreciate Indian wines even as the makers started getting recognised internationally. “They want to experience the vineyard life and learn more about wine,” he says.

Over the last couple of years, The Source at Sula (their Tuscan style resort) has gone from 28 to 57 rooms to meet the burgeoning demand. The occupancy rate is 90% and on weekends it’s fully booked, says Grégoire.

A view from one of the rooms at Sula’s Tuscan style resort

A view from one of the rooms at Sula’s Tuscan style resort
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At one point the criterion for many might have been: Forget terroir; is the place Instagrammable? That is not the case anymore, he laughs, “Earlier they came to take pictures. Now they are more serious about wine,” he adds.

Jayanth Bharathi, deputy general manager, marketing, Fratelli Wines, believes that vineyard tourism is a great way to experience slow travel. “People get to connect with local people, culture, produce, food. They soak in wine culture for a day or two before going back refreshed,” he says.

Cycling around the lush setting at Fratelli

Cycling around the lush setting at Fratelli
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Fratelli vineyard came up in Akluj (approximately three hours from Pune) in 2007. Four years later, four luxury rooms were added. “Initially, the rooms were for our teams, directors, and colleagues from Italy to stay in. Eventually, with more people wanting to visit and stay the night, we turned it into Fratelli Estate, a boutique property,” says Jayanth.

As Indians focus on discovering domestic destinations this year, Jayanth says that there is a rising demand for spaces that are not too crowded. “Due to these specifications, our demand has gone up by 30% especially since November 2020, when people were tired of being cooped up indoors,” he says, adding that occupancy rates shot up from 70% to 90%.

While clients have chosen to stay for a night to about 10 days, with some even working out of the vineyards (perhaps their productivity better fuelled by a glass of wine or two), there has also been a significant rise in day trippers.

Fratelli has seen a 15% increase, while at Sula, on some days close to 3,000 people walk in and out of the gates. Grover Zampa’s 34-year-old vineyard in Doddaballapura (Karnataka) has increased its number of day tours from two to three per day, with batches of 25-30 people being shown around the 410 acres during morning, afternoon and late afternoon tours. During the weekends the number swells to 50 in each batch. And those in groups of 10 can make a party out of it with grape stomping sessions on request at an additional fee.

Lots more to see

The vineyard has now become a venue for not just staycations, or a day out but also for shoots, luxury car showcasing events and expat club activities, observes Sumit Jaiswal, vice president marketing and EXIM, of Grover Zampa Vineyards. “Be it a day out or a wedding shoot, people are looking at unique ways to set apart their experiences,” he adds.

Grover Zampa recently completed a state-of-the-art wine cellar that will open to the public soon. Plans are being chalked out to add rooms to this facility. In the meantime their Four Seasons Vineyard in Pune, which has a chateau-style resort is doing brisk business.

Maharashtra has more options for wine tourism: Soma Vine Village, for example, has converted wine barrels into snug rooms; Hill Zill Winery and Resort offers meads, sparkling alcoholic beverages made with fruit at their resort nestled in the Sahyadri mountain range.

A busy day at the Fratelli vineyard

A busy day at the Fratelli vineyard
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

An hour’s drive from Hampi (Karnataka), Krsma Estate, which featured in the list of World’s Best Vineyards 2021 gets batches of day trippers. Now, its founders Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati, who devote all their time to viticulture, are constructing around three rooms for stay, on popular demand.

In India the harvest season is from the last week of December to mid-March. Tourists, however, arrive all through the year. Even brutal summer months, where temperatures may cross 40 degree Celsius, are not a deterrent for the experience seeker. In winter, the rolling vineyards are veiled in mist in the early mornings. The monsoon also has it’s own appeal. “It’s magnificent. The vibe of the vineyard changes according to the season,” says Grégoire, who sees mainly couples and some families frequenting the property. The age group is primarily 30-45 year olds, he notices.

At the Scandinavian-style Eskape.Club cottage

At the Scandinavian-style Eskape.Club cottage
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

If vineyards, serene spaces and cosy cottages are all you care about and don’t really mind the absence of wine, you can experience vineyard life of a different kind. At Eskape.Club, started by Nikhil Deshpande in 2018, stay in Scandinavian-style accommodation, surrounded by 15 acres of vineyards.

Exploring the property at Eskape.Club

Exploring the property at Eskape.Club
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“We call ourselves a vineyard getaway property,” says Nikhil. The facility, a short drive from Bengaluru, features an outdoor cafe, bonfire, activities like cycling, orchard walks, and vineyard tours led by Mohan Gowda who takes care of the vineyard. Guests typically leave with 10-20 kilograms of grapes. Charmed by the stay, at least three of their clients have gone a step further and bought vineyard properties nearby. One guests even launched his own homestay.

The eco quotient

Consciously avoiding plastic, Nikhil says everything is built with metal and hardwood. It’s got a rustic feel. “We work with the locals to provide services,” he says.

Big on sustainability, Eskape.Club uses solar power, and recycles and reuses resources. At Sula as well, 70% of hospitality operations is powered by solar energy. There are solar panels, e-vehicles and practices such as composting and reusing water… “These are things we are really focussing on to act against climate change. Our CEO is an activist when it comes to climate change,” says Grégoire, “Sustainability is a way of life here. It is something we take as much pride in as our wine.”



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