In my Planet Wine series I’ve tried to take you to places you wouldn’t expect to find vineyards. But even I was surprised to learn there is good wine coming out of India. Yes, India, an even more unlikely place than, say, Delaware or England. The above photo shows the vines beneath the pleasant rolling hills outside the village of Nashik, in Maharashtra, toward the western central coast of India. It’s about 80 miles north-northwest of Mumbai. This is Sula Vineyards, one of India’s preeminent and pioneering wineries. They make several varietals at Sula, including zinfandel, chenin blanc, merlot, even a sparking wine. It’s not a bad way to try to get the world’s second-largest country on the map of wine.
Sula was begun in 1993 by Rajeev Samant, an Indian who relocated to the United States to work in Silicon Valley’s tech industry. After cashing out of the tech world–which is a common beginning for modern winery owners–Rajeev returned to his family’s lands in Nashik, a traditionally grape-growing region of India, and brought with him American winemaker Kerry Damskey. Together the two started a planting of sauvignon blanc transplanted from California. Although grapes were long cultivated in this part of India, wine never has been, so Sula was definitely a pioneering effort.
Today Sula is one of India’s largest and most well-known wineries, with Rajeev having added acreage in 2006, six years after the first wine from here appeared on the market. Sula practices sustainable viticulture and also focuses on contributing to the local economy. In both of these trends, this kind of winery may well find itself on the cutting edge of the agricultural economy of the 21st century, which will be increasingly impacted by climate change and other environmental issues.
I’ve never had a Sula wine, but I definitely want to try it! You will note my photo at the top of this page is a normal “on the ground” photo; for these Planet Wine posts I usually do Google Street View shots, but Street View is not available in this part of India. Below is what the site looks like from above–if I’ve pegged it right. The long straight rows of grapevines are very recognizable.