My first memory of the smell of wet soil was way back in 1973 when I was really young and persuaded firmly by my dad to water rows of vegetables in our reasonably large kitchen garden in pune.
My father was, for many years, an avid, amateur gardener. He found a lot of expression and joy in growing his own vegetables. Inadvertently, the chores related to this passionate hobby were passed on to me; a grumbling pre-teen doing all the tasks that he could delegate my way.
The resultant joy of seeing cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, cucumber, groundnut, radish and many other vegetables grow was magical. I was always surprised at how good they tasted right off the vine or out of the soil, unwashed, much to my father’s dismay. I would live on the fruit trees in the garden and had built a machan on a large, wild fig tree. I would spend many hours lost among its branches.
It was pure magic and I am grateful for the childhood I was given by my parents.
In the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to spend time with two wonderful, young winemakers at two great vineyards, Sanket Gawand and Vrushal Kedari !
Sanket Gawand is the winemaker at Vallonne Vineyards in Nashik and is probably the finest winemaker and agriculturist I have met in my life.
I don’t say this lightly as I have known him for more than a decade and every time I have met him he has found a solution for some of my biggest agricultural headaches at Cherish Farm, whether it is to do with snail attacks on my raised beds or our drip irrigation system. All solutions are given with a smile and with a deep understanding of local issues.
He applies this same knowledge and wisdom at a very young age to growing the finest grape which make some of India’s finest boutique wines in small batches for Vallonne. These are available only at our restaurants, at the vineyard in Nashik itself or in select stores and restaurants in Mumbai.
Vallonne is precious, scarce, small batch and unique.
I see the same effort from Shailendra Pai, the owner of Vallonne, that I saw in my dad growing vegetables in our garden when Shailendra supervises his vineyard. I see the pain and the joy in both of them as growing grapes and harvesting them. Turning these berries into excellent wine is an art!
When you buy wine understand that joy and pain; when one tastes that in the wine one pays for it with gratitude and happiness. Do that. Do it because making wine is not like brewing beer or distilling whisky – wine making involves agriculture at very intense levels from planting the vines, nurturing the soil, protecting the vines all their lives, nurturing the berries, harvesting them at the right time, all the while praying that the weather stays supportive.
It doesn’t end there. It entails sorting and crushing the harvested grapes and then letting the yeast do the work at the right temperatures with electricity not being supportive in remote areas of our state. Sacrificing a normal social life is the norm for all wine makers as the wine becomes the life partner and the purpose.
After the harvest the vineyards need a lot of attention through pruning at the right time and maintaining the ecosystem for the next harvest. When you drink a bottle or a glass of any wine please feel all this; taste the joy and the sacrifice and the minerality of the carefully nurtured soil in each sip.
Treat the wine with respect as it is all good hard work that goes into every bottle.
Respect the vineyard owner who takes all the risk financially to put forward that wonderful bottle of life on your table and the winemaker who sacrifices a romantic meal with his loved one so you can have that meal with your loved ones and enhance the experience with that great bottle of wine.
I am forever a fan of vineyard owners like Shailendra Pai and Gaurav Sekhri and wine makers like Sanket and Vrushal.
Recently I followed my visit to Malaka spice on Vallone vineyards with a visit to Akluj and the huge vineyards owned by Fratelli!
To say I was gobsmacked by the scale of the Fratelli effort would be a huge understatement. The investments, the risk to make a great bottle of wine on 500 acres of vineyards far removed from the wine district of Nashik itself is so courageous that it makes one very emotional at the sheer blind faith in the soil and the grape.
Fratelli has focused its efforts on Italian varietals and put in creditable effort, in addition to some traditional French styles of wines. Walking around their massive vineyards would take a couple of days so we were driven around in a jeep and we were thankful for that.
The highlight was to meet winemaker Vrushal Kedari, another young winemaker in India who embodies all that I have written about earlier and more. The scale at Fratelli is different from Vallonne; Vallonne is a boutique vineyard focusing on small batches while Fratelli focuses on large batches and have eight-five or ninety massive fermentation tanks at their facility and they supply their wine all over the country.
For young men like Sanket and Vrushal, these are the careers that they dreamt and studied for, putting in sweat, tears and years! The result is for all to see in their wines. I for one am very fortunate that Vallonne allows us to express our menus with their great wines at the Nashik vineyard. We are so very proud to serve wines from these two great vineyards at our Koregaon Park location and to be able to taste the wonder that is in the bottle every other day. I dream that one day, more and more wine drinkers will start appreciating these wines and paying the price for these glasses of heaven.
When such effort, purpose and risk is put out by a few entrepreneurs to make such wonderful Indian agricultural produce, it doesn’t seem fair for Indian retailers to demand ridiculous discounts to keep these wines in their store shelves.It is in my opinion disrespectful to all Vineyard owners and wine makers.
Be Indian. Be proud. Buy Indian. I promise you it is well worth it.