Last week my family and I had a brief escape to Igatpuri, a hill station about two hours away from Mumbai. After two days of frolicking in waterfalls and feeling vertigo from the heights of Camel Valley, we checked out of the resort.
Before going home, we took a 45 minutes detour to check out Vallonné vineyards for a wine tour and tasting. The entire concept of a wine tasting seemed foreign to me. Nevertheless, I was eager to try it out.
The first thing to strike me is that this place was in the middle of NOWHERE. I had poor signal the entire trip and we only passed by a handful of houses. The only thing to ensure that we don’t wander off was the fact that each member of the family had a different service provider. So at all points, at least one phone had a decent signal.
Note: This is probably an essential tool when it comes to travelling here or any uncharted territory – have two SIMs with different providers.
For any visitors too tired to navigate back to whatever wine-less place they came from, they also serve as a hotel and have a restaurant “Malaka Spice”. This vineyard seemed like a romantic getaway of sorts for wine connoisseurs. No distractions. No interruptions from the outside world. Just you and a bottle of wine (or two), gazing at the vast open fields of grapevines.
The entrance of the wine tour was through the restaurant. Even though it was 11 AM on a Monday, the place had the ambience of lazy Saturday afternoon. The air was warm and makes you want to lie in a hammock with a good book.
The maitre d’ greeted us and showed us the restaurant. I noticed that the reception was made of several oak barrels together, with a wooden tabletop to smoothen it out. The rest of the restaurant was adorned with racks of wine and various accolades from famous entities like the Times Group and Masterchef Australia.
After we caught a few minutes of rest from the drive, we were led downstairs for the wine tour. The tour was led by Mr. Aniket, a bioengineering student from Mumbai. As he showed us the various machines used to segregate, crush and ferment the grapes, we dawned upon a realisation. We were in the offseason for wine-making. The grapevines are harvested in February and that’s when the vinery is the busiest. On the bright side, this meant that our tour was as personalised as could be possible.
FACT: India isn’t a major wine-consuming nation. Most of the wine made here is made from the grapes we find on the dinner table. The wine tends to be a lot sweeter due to that. What makes this vineyard special is that they import their saplings “cabernet sauvignon” from France. Another interesting thing about this place is that it’s a “boutique vineyard”. This means that production is on a much smaller scale and wine is of better quality, as compared to their more popular counterparts like Sula.
After half an hour of geeking out over the science of wine-making with my chemistry-teacher-mom and engineer-dad, we were led towards the wine table for the tasting. Aniket shared with us his vast expertise in the world of viticulture. This included the optimal serving temperatures for various types of wines and the best way to extract the best flavour from each drink.
This is the part of the trip that blew me away. My mind was opened up to knowledge previously forbidden to me. Until today, I was befuddled on why connoisseurs used words like “dry” to describes wines that are clearly wet.
After the wine tasting and touring the cellar, we went for a walk through the vineyard. Unfortunately, the harvest season was only a few months ago. So it was rare to spot good grapes. However, after a lot of hunting, we did find a few that were ripe and juicy.
The stroll in the afternoon heat had us famished as we sat down in Malaka spice to eat. This restaurant specialises in south-east Asian cuisines, particularly in Thai and Vietnamese food. What surprised me is the availability of several tofu options on the menu, something I see all too rarely here. We sat by the window, overlooking the beautiful Sahyadri ranges and the lush fields of grapevines. The food was rich in flavour. The Thai was creamy and had me longing for it even a week after.
Traditionally, grapevines are crushed by several people stomping on them in a barrel. This practice has long been abandoned for more efficient (and more hygienic) machines. However, during February and March, visitors can ask for some grapes to be stomped on as they are being harvested. As I couldn’t take part in it this time, I look forward to being here next year.