Determined not to let my jet lag beat me, I was sure I could get up early and go for a walk before breakfast at the Sula Spa hotel. After all, jet lag was nothing new and I must be getting used to it by now.
So I overslept, rushed to get ready, and joined the team out at the Sula Zinfandel vineyards facing the tasting room. Today we would film the continuing harvest at Sula and interview the head winemaker, Ajoy. A lovely, softly spoken guy, Ajoy explained why Sula does not have two harvests a year, despite the tempting potential to maximize the output from the vines. The constant warm temperatures mean that the vines never go dormant, although they do prune the vines over the summer months. Despite being located in the northern hemisphere, Sula harvest in early spring, a side effect of such a warm climate.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case the wine. The first thing the taster expects when being given a glass of Sula white or red is low acidity and incredibly ripe fruit. So it was a nice surprise that all the wines retain a wonderful freshness and balance that is hardly expected in such a warm climate. High altitude vineyards help, in addition to the shrewd decision to pick so early. Not what I was expecting, the Sauvignon Blanc would pass for a Sancerre!
Laughing and joking with the pickers, we film the harvest over several hours and then follow the fruit to the winery. Designed in the Napa mold, the facility houses all the latest equipment with the prerequisite bells and whistles. Ajoy takes a group through the wine-making process and we steer off to peer into the fermentation vats. Bubbling away, you have to be careful as the intense layer of carbon dioxide released during the fermentation can quickly become overpowering. I had never been so close to the action.
Ajoy is one of the new generation of Indian wine makers and long may it grow and continue. As a new industry, India’s wine industry has benefited enormously from outside consultancy and influence from the likes of Michel Rolland and Kerry Damskey (to name a few). However, now Indian wine is finding its feet and identity, it needs to cultivate its own army of wine makers and Ajoy starts the trend nicely. He has quite a good singing voice too.
Having wrapped up the filming of the harvest, we set off on a road trip the following morning to take a real look of rural India. Sula is surrounded by local villages and the city of Nashik itself has a thriving population and Sula has been vital to the local community, employing many of its residents. Traveling in India really takes some getting used to; the roads seem to literally disappear in some places. That and the constant stream of people and cows means that you cannot be in a hurry. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
Indian towns and cities are the best example of organised chaos I had ever seen. Nashik for example is a collection of the most basic buildings with crumbling houses next to a modern hotel or restaurant. They pulsate with life, some of it disheartening. The sidewalks and streets are full of homeless people who make their homes on the pavement. Certainly, you most not come to India expecting a western-style experience or standard of infrastructure.
On the way to Nashik we stopped to film a herd of Water Buffalo and their shepherd. Water Buffalo seem so gentle and graceful, quietly grazing and minding their own business. They are quite tame and I was told it was okay to approach them.
That is, unless it’s a mother and calf. I won’t go into great detail but suffice to say I got too close for comfort to the horns of an angry bull. It’s amazing how fast you can run when you need to
After my unfortunate encounter with the proud parents we spent the afternoon filming at the home of our driver, a village just outside Nashik. It was a humbling experience, to be allowed to film a Hindu wedding that was taking place that same day. Despite the masses of people and excited children I managed to catch a glimpse of the groom being covered in turmeric, this is to colour the skin as a precursor to the actual wedding ceremony.
We were then invited into the house of the village matriarch. It was one of the nicest experiences of my life, everyone welcomed us and the children even sang a song to entertain us; although conversation was a little difficult due to the language barrier. Materially, most people who lived in the village were very poor, yet everyone seemed so happy and content. Materially impoverished perhaps, but definitely not spiritually.
It was another day in India that I will never forget; I sat in the Sula restaurant that evening contemplating the true meaning of poverty?
Catch Part 3 next week – The vision of Sula founder Rajeev, downtown Mumbai and Costa Rican winemaking.