Slowly but steadily Baramati is on its way to becoming India’s next oeno-tourism destination

It’s tough to imagine that the dusty detour off the Pune-Hyderabad highway could be the next destination on India’s emerging oeno-tourism map. Baramati has traditionally been a large producer of table grape; the region’s tryst with wine grapes began in 2006. Four Seasons, one of India’s youngest wine brands, selected Baramati to establish its flagship winery and that move introduced a clutch of smaller vineyards in the area. Aside from the terroir (soil), Baramati’s climate conditions also make it conducive for wine grape cultivation — warm days and pleasant nights with moderate rainfall.

As far as wine production in India goes, Maharashtra has little competition — the state accounts for more than 80 per cent of the country’s grape-wine production. Nashik in Maharasthra has become synonymous with India’s bourgeoning wine industry. It is home to more wineries and vineyards than any location in India. With emerging labels and brands all set to change the complexion of Indian wines, it’s no longer just Nashik that is the epicentre of the Indian wine story.

A smooth one-and-a-half hour drive from the Pune airport took me straight to a French-style chateau at Rotti, a sleepy village 90-minutes away from the Pune airport. Literally in the middle of nowhere, you can be forgiven for mistaking the imposing Four Seasons chateau for a film set super imposed on an arid terrain. You can spot this chateau from quite a distance and it is enveloped by vineyards. There’s no better time to be at a vineyard than harvest time; Baramati’s 10-week harvest season starts in January and runs till March. Leading Indian wine labels such as Sula, Grover and now Four Seasons (through its international label Ritu) have made sure that Indian wines have made their appearance in restaurants around the globe. Four Seasons’ Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc are the pick of their versatile portfolio.

The accommodation facilities are located atop the winery and you can take sneak peeks of the processing facility from the corridors along the rooms. Four Seasons organises tours of the winery where you can witness the fascinating journey — from grape to wine in a bottle. There are also structured tasting and wine appreciation sessions to help you unravel the complex realm of wines. A growing number of wineries around the globe encourage visitors to become ‘winemaker for the day’. I attempted to create a master blend with three red varietals (Shiraz, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon) and their chief winemaker looked suitably impressed. Maybe the nod of approval is a standard reserved for all guests and convinces them to have an alternative career option! The chateau’s well-appointed rooms will soon be open for guests, but the vineyard’s proximity to Pune makes for a perfect day visit.

I opted to make the 45-minute drive from Rotti to Baramati and was pleasantly surprised to find a realm beyond wine and cheese. First, it’s the region’s reputation as one of Maharashtra’s thriving agricultural belts. Onion farms and sugarcane farms along the way offer fascinating vignettes of rural Maharasthra; perfect for unplanned stops and to let your camera get into overdrive. Baramati’s journey from a sleepy town to an industrial hub becomes evident as I drive past the large industrial park that is now a manufacturing base for international conglomerates. Large factories, educational institutions and residential neighbourhoods dominate the landscape that’s almost undistinguishable from large Indian metros.

All that changes once you are in the old quarter of town. It is home to the historic Siddeshwar temple where Chatrapati Shivaji used to offer prayers frequently. Baramati’s culinary traditions come alive at Chinapa Modi, the town’s favourite sweet shop. From the exotic dink laddoo made with edible gum and the region’s popular rajgira chikki with amaranth, the wonder grain, this little shop is full of temptations.

It will be a while before oeno-tourism in India can rival destinations like Napa Valley in California. However, the emergence of wineries and vineyards with accommodation options like Sula in Nashik, Fratelli in Akluj and soon Four Seasons in Baramati is bound to impact the scene. With easy access from Mumbai and Pune, these vineyards offer a great weekend retreat for wine aficionados and newcomers alike.