“Wine is a drink that should start and end with a smile”, a thought aptly put across by William Sokolin. Maharashtra presently flaunts its own winery, the famed Sula Vineyards at Nashik. Situated at a distance of 180 kilometers from Mumbai city, Nashik fitted an ideal destination for the weekend traveler looking to dwell into a variety of sweet, dry, tasty wines at the winery. 1997, was the birth of the winery and in a period of 14 years till date, has grown to be the largest wine player in Indian market and a recognizable brand worldwide.
Initially, the plan was made for visiting the town of ‘Igatpuri’. As we approached closer to the date of travel, we realized Sula Vineyard is an hour away to the north of Igatpuri. Since none of us had been to Sula earlier, the plan was readily agreed. A weekend road trip to the cool, hilly climate of ‘Nashik’ with wines at our disposal to taste, in the midst of the rainy season were reasons enough for 4 of my friends to gear up and leave for Nashik on the 14th of August, 2011. It was a rare long weekend for us, one that extended onto a Monday as it was a national Holiday being Independence Day; 15th of August, 2011. The trip was the one of the easiest to plan, considering the distance to be covered and secondly, the transport; Shishir’s car, serviced and readily available for the drive. A gleaming, fully serviced, mean looking ‘Maruti 800’.
The day was bright and sunny, a complete contrast of the season in which we decided to travel. But, nevertheless, Clive and Jude met Shishir at Vile Parle, who took out his car and picked me up from ‘Chembur’ at 10.30 AM. Thereafter, a non-stop ride by the Eastern Expressway until ‘Kalyan’, whereby a quick check-up of the car tyres was needed. Continuing ahead, we stuck to National Highway 3 (NH-3) via ‘Vasind’ and ‘Shahapur’ towns rather than via ‘Murbad’ town. This was primarily because the NH-3 route was quicker in reaching the destination than NH-222. The enthusiasm of taking the Murbad route was eminent, but upon realization of the route being lengthier, opted for the former. NH-3 didn’t disappoint with slight drizzle just as we hit the ghats/ climb section.
Beautiful roads with scenic views kept us on the edge throughout the drive. We passed the town ‘Igatpuri’ and stopped for a quick lunch at a highway joint around 50 kms prior to our destination. Lunch with a couple of beers prior to the wines was ideal way to start off the trip. Proper signboards are put up to reach the place, though it isn’t exactly close to the city.
Sula Vineyards is not a place that is known amongst the locals. Muted responses were aplenty. Rephrasing it as an alcohol manufacturing joint helped convey the message across to them. It’s a straight road along NH-3 until you pass “Moharir Ford showroom” on your right and “Hotel gateway” on your left. At that junction, a left turn needs to be taken leaving NH-3 and joining State Highway No 27 (SH-27). Approximately 8-10 kilometers down the road, another left turn needs to be taken when you pass “Shakti mining Equipments Private Limited” on your left. A right turn needs to be taken again after 1 km. Continuing forward for approximately 5 kms, a left needs to be taken. Here, you will notice the change in surroundings as you start passing a lot of vineyards on either side. The scenic paradise with slight drizzle amongst the hills was the best mix of weather and nature. The thought of tasting some good old wine was exciting, atleast in this weather. The driver of the car needs to be really careful with the narrow bumpy roads and most importantly watching out for drivers who are on their way back, all boozed up. An unfortunate incident when a speeding “Tavera” car travelling at 60kms/hr in those narrow roads hit the mirror on the driver’s side and was completely shattered.
We finally reached the place at 3.00 PM. The place was bustling with the weekend travelers, music and lot of wine flowing. Finding a suitable parking spot was a tough task. Once inside, we immediately hit the counter for two bottles of wine. The cost, as expected, was much lesser than what we would pay at Mumbai or at a retail wine shop. Quite a variety of wines were available and being an amateur wine drinker made that choice a little difficult. We decided on "Sula Chenin Blanc" and "Sula Mosiac Chenin Sauvignon", both being white wines and the cost being in the range between Rs. 200/- and Rs. 300/- each. We tasted the "Madera" wine as well. Cheese and fruits with the wine was a perfect blend. A wine cellar threw light on the variety of wines available, the process of brewing and the successful launch of Sula in 1997.
A vineyard tour for Rs. 250/- was available between 11.00 AM and 4.30 PM, but was sold out for the day due to the heavy number of people who had already enrolled themselves for the 14th August, 2011. The wide open balcony provided a clear, unobstructed view of a section of the vineyard. We ended up having quite a bit of wine and it was an experience to savour. With the evening light diminishing rapidly and nightfall imminent, we left to search for accommodation for the night, with a heavy heart but, quite happy. Wanted to spend more time, but finding accommodation was the next priority.
We headed towards Nashik town as that was the best bet considering the time involved in travelling and the cost involved. We tried our luck at a couple of hotels/ lodges just on the outskirts of the city. “Hotel Annapoorna” was decided at first, but seemed difficult to locate. Ultimately reaching the hotel, the caretaker was adamant on not letting us stay claiming it was booked out. The hotel/ lodge though wasn’t out of the ordinary, but definitely gave the creeps with not a soul in sight. Moving on, we found a highway joint with a decent room to stay for the night. It wasn’t a surprise that couple of the guys dozed off as soon as they hit the bed after a tiring and enjoyable day. On the eve of our country's Independence Day, it was relaxing to watch the movie “Sholay” before dozing for the night. A tired, and lazy Monday, 15th of August, 2011 beckoned us for the return trip back to Mumbai. Quickly, all of us headed back to Mumbai with the rains imminent and certain other commitments for the rest of the day.
The ghats provided the extra thrill with visibility of not more than 10 meters and heavy rains. A quick breakfast and we reached Mumbai at 12.30 PM. An exciting weekend road trip successfully done and complete enjoyment. Costing was minimal as the car was my friend’s and so only fuel cost was divided which came to Rs. 500/- per head. Wine expenses came to Rs. 300/- per head for quite a bit of wine divided amongst 4 of us. Room rent was minimal at Rs. 600/- a night. Breakfast, lunch and other sundry expenses can be added or adjusted according to your requirements. We parceled a couple of wines for home. Never was a wine connoisseur, and still wouldn’t say I am! A truly enjoyable experience and lots to savour. Cheers!