After miles and miles of sleepy towns and dusty roads, the white modernist glass structure in the middle of nowhere seems like a phantasm. I, along with a group of journalists, at the invitation of Fratelli Wines, have arrived at their winery at Motewadi, Maharashtra.
The property, designed to promote the burgeoning culture of wine tourism, is less than two years old. Getting out of the car, I see an immaculate tasting room with a neat row of small stems and smart-looking bar stools, locked up in all its glory. I'm tempted to make a dash for the flutes but with much practised restraint, follow my group around the corner and up a spiral wooden staircase. We are being guided to our respective rooms, of which the property has only four, all colour-coded. The Blue Room is mine, with its island-blue mosaic countertops, cobalt-bright walls and a bay window that opens to the landscaped lawns.
We've spent the better part of the day on the road from Mumbai, so when we step out to visit the winery next door, the evening sun is already on its way down, burning the seamless glass structure of the wine red. How apt.
Flagging off the tour, I walk into a room filled with endless rows of massive stainless steel wine drums – a stark, realistic contrast to the romantic, aesthetic notions one usually associates with wine. After an elaborate low-down on the capacity of the winery - six lakh litres - and the average time taken between harvesting and bottling - close to three months - and almost every other detail in between, I am ready to try the real thing.
With cheese and crackers laid out on the bar, the host pours out a choice sampling of wines for the evening. The grassy bouquet of the pale yellow Sauvignon Blanc strikes me even before I have the chance to take a whiff. Dry and herbaceous, the wine has notes reminiscent of melon rind, lime and grapefruit.
The pale white Chenin Blanc, poured in next, is a medium-bodied white with peach and citrus notes. The crisp acidity of the white is balanced with a hint of sweetness.
The blood red Cabernet Sauvignon which trickles into our flutes next is an 80 per cent cabernet and 20 per cent sangiovese blend. The wine, fermented at 25 degrees centigrade for a week is full-bodied and dry to the palate. The first bouquet was that of blackberry and blackcurrants followed by subtle notes of black olives and a hint of sage. The Cabernet Sauvignon carried a lot of character with its subtle earthy tones and an elusive spiciness.
Swirling and sniffing the ruby red Merlot next, I took a sip of the full-bodied wine. The velvety Merlot has evolved with notes of cherry, dark berry and plum, accentuated by subtle mocha and herbal nuances.
Apart from the wines I sampled, Fratelli has two basic wines in its repertoire – the Classic White and the Classic Red. The Classic White was a young, fresh and fruity wine, the kinds you can sip on at any time of the day.
But what could easily be on its way to becoming a cult wine, grown on Indian soil, is the complex, red, ‘Sette'. Fratelli's showstopper, Sette, was not open for retail at the time of writing. Neither does the company divulge the bouquet of the wine, lest someone try to replicate it. Potential buyers are sent a bottle of Sette to sample. If they like it, which we definitely did, they have to purchase a set of hundred, which Fratelli prices at one lakh rupees.
The lie of the land
Now that I've tasted more than half the repertoire of Fratelli Wines' produce, which consists of five reds and four whites, I am ready to see where the magic comes from. We take off for the vineyard, a 10 minute drive from the property.
I am told the painstakingly slow process of choosing the right terroir to set up a vineyard began almost six years ago. Of all the regions that were being tested for the perfect combination of climate, soil type and topography, the 240 acres of virgin land at Akluj (a four-hour drive from Pune) was marked as the most ideal. The entire area was graded to form gentle slopes with an ideal degree of elevation so as to not allow water to collect thus reducing the risk of soil dampening and dilution of the flavours. The elevation was also essential to provide the breeze and ample aeration essential for the grapes to develop colour.
We drove in and around winding roads, spotting the ‘Syrah Hill' at the vineyard (named because it lends itself to plant Syrah grapes) from a distance. I had already started imagining neat rows of green vines going up the slope, all the way to the small hillock. I ended up doing a double take when I got off the car to spot mostly the dry, sandy soil I'd been seeing for most part of the way there. Alas, the grapes had been plucked for harvesting before the summer temperatures set in and deny the grapes of their characteristic flavours and aroma. Better luck next time, I thought, with a tinge of jealousy for those who must have come in a month or two before I did, to dine at the quaint little shack atop Syrah Hill and feast their eyes on the endless green below.
Henry Miller had once said, “One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I, for one, will take a look at that flute of deep red twice the next time I savour it.