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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Visit to the Vineyard


Let me start this blog with a confession.
Around eight years back, an old classmate had posted pictures of her visit to Napa Valley on Orkut. Yes, am referring to those prehistoric daysJ
That was around the same time in life when I was initiated to wine. Cannot say about others, but it took me a while to like, savour and celebrate wine. But the pictures, ah they had made me fall instantly in love with vineyards. The photographs captured the tranquility and simple beauty of the land; there was this particular photograph of the picturesque rolling hills planted with vineyards meeting the azure sky in the horizon - THAT vision had stayed with me since then.
Hence, when our plan for a day trip to Grover Vineyards got finalized, I was more than excited. I was ecstatic. Nah, I wasn’t expecting Napa Valley, but given that it is a bona fide vineyard was good enough to rouse my interest.  
Distance calculator:
Grover Vineyard is located at the foot of Nandi hills in a place called Dodaballapura, 40 kms towards north of Bangalore (so their site says). Trick question is 40 km north from which part of the city? From where I stay the vineyard is at a distance of approximately 63 kms. MG Road, considered city centre in Bangalore is approximately 6 kms from my place, so roughly it is located 58 kms from the city centre.

A bright blue, sunny mid-January Saturday morning, is when we four started the joy ride.
We were asked to reach there by 10.45 am by the person who did our bookings; we miscalculated the distance (we were under the impression that it is 40 km from MG road) and hence reached there at around 11.30ish. The drive through the concrete jungle, dust and traffic was boring; music and inane conversations kept our spirits high till we took a left from NH 7, towards Dodaballapura. 
Urban Jungle

Ah, such relief to the eyes! Once we hit the narrow road on our left, off the Highway, the scenery changed; the dull gray dust, huge smoke belching trucks and unfinished construction of something or the other gave way to a winding tar road flanked on both sides by tall, slender eucalyptus and few other not-familiar-with-their-names large tress. In certain stretches their branches met to form a canopy; the fresh air, soothing greenery and misty Nandi Hills at a distance created a relaxed atmosphere thus adding to the happiness quotient that I associate with travel.
On the way to Grover Vineyards

Note: One can book a personalized tour by calling up the winery or sending a mail to: visit@grovervineyards.in.
Charges are Rs 500 per head (on a weekday) and Rs 750 per head (on a weekend) that includes a visit to the vineyard and winery and also includes wine tasting (any four variants except La Réserve).  Food is available (fixed menu) at an additional cost of Rs 350 per person.

On reaching the winery, we were welcomed with a VIP badge and wrist bandJ
Child like enthusiasm took over me; seriously, I have never been in the VIP category! I immediately stuck the bright orange badge on my arm as a tattoo much to the amusement of others in the group.
THE VIP badge

We were led to the reception area where someone mistook us for a group of 30 photographers! I mean for God’s sake there were just four of us, but never mind that. We (especially me) sulked slightly; I was so looking forward to peace and quiet while lazily exploring the vineyard.  Luckily, our tour guide for the day Kavita, promptly pacified me that the big group was due only at 2 pm!
FYI: Kavita, a Grover employee is currently involved in the production side and is an informative, chilled out and helpful guide.

Vineyard:
Since the vineyard is located around ¾ of a km from the winery, Kavita advised that we take the car instead of walking in the heat.
The entrance was non descriptive, except the bright bougainvillea which caught my eyes and the stray who impressed me with his polite behaviour and welcomed us. 

As we took a few steps inside, we came to a sudden halt, taking in the sight around us. The narrow uneven stretch of a road on which we stood, had vineyards all around us, as far as eyes could see.
Kavita explained that on our left side the grapes were being cultivated based on the ‘cordon trellis method’ whilst grapes cultivated on the right side was based on the ‘canopy method’. FYI - Indian farmers traditionally have been exposed to the ‘canopy method’ of cultivation only.



Trellising
Li’l Gyan: Quoting Dr. Richard Smart, an expert on wine grape growing, “wine is a product of sunlight.” Wine is essentially a product of Photosynthesis; hence to get the best wine the winegrower must make the best use of sunlight. Trellising is the method in which the grape vine is trained to grow on wires or posts to expose its leaves and fruit to the sun and it is a key tool in wine growing.

We strolled around, posed quite a lot and soaked in the bright sun while Kavita patiently explained to me the number of labourers required during pruning, number of crops grown in a year and also shared a brief history on how Grover Vineyards came into being. We also discussed Michel Rolland, a little. As one walks ten-fifteen minutes from the entrance towards the interiors of the vineyard, there is a small Pump house. If you manage to climb the high steps, you reach the terrace which gives you a breathtaking view of the slopes all around flourishing with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. 
Vista from the terrace

It is the kind of spot where you want to sit and have a lavish brunch, accompanied by wine, soulful music and great conversations.
Canopy

We spent nearly 45 minutes in the vineyard and then headed back to the winery.







Kavita diligently showed us the various stages of production; we visited the storage plant, crushing unit, bottling and labeling departments. The technical knowledge imparted while visiting these departments went a little above my head. However two key take away for me:
a) This winery has 70 tanks (capacity 25,000l each) for storage and
b)  The bottling unit can produce 80 cases in an hour (I am not sure if that is impressive)

The barrel room is located a level below and that’s where the tasting session took place.
Barrel Room

The room was filled with warm yellow lights with opera playing in the background, a rather nice setting for tasting. It was a fairly big room, with barrels lined up on one side, sitting arrangement for tasting on the other side; one entire wall was filled with the bottled products. Few slices of cheese and some biscuits were kept ready on a plate to go with the wine.
Ready for tasting

Info: Grover Vineyard tour allows you to taste four varieties of their products. To taste La Réserve, there is an additional cost involved.

We selected Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Shiraz Rosé, and Cabarnet Shiraz.
Light banter accompanied (at some point the owner’s daughter had joined in too) the tasting, while the two men in the group kept themselves busy positioning tripods for their respective photo shoot.
Must mention, that while I have always preferred the white variant amongst wines, post the tasting, am sold on Rosé. Oh and the Viognier is a hit with me tooJ
Rosé.













We discussed wine tourism and they were open to ideas and even encouraged us to go for a picnic in the vineyard. However organizing a grape crushing festival and vineyard tour with lodging etc may require more time to finally happen.

Sharing some more gyan:
a)      A corked wine bottle (where the stopper is made of natural corkwood) is still a preferred option for special wines that need to be stored, over a long period of time. Since the cork is able to expand to fully fill the neck of the bottle, it keeps the bottle airtight thus preventing the wine from becoming undrinkable.
I personally feel that there is something very happy about the sound of opening a corked wine bottle.
b)      Once opened, the bottle should be kept horizontally so that the wine constantly touches the cork and keeps it moist.
However, the debate on whether corks or caps are better is a serious one. In fact, I think will read up George Taber’s “To cork or not to cork” for a deeper knowledge!

c) Also learned about ‘dropstop’ – an important accessory for anyone in charge of pouring wine. (Please read details at: http://www.dropstop.com/en/)
Photo shoot ;)

By the time we finished (tasting wine and clicking some more photographs), we were famished. The buffet lunch was spread out in the garden area, next to which was a cute little pond. There was a mid sized cage next to the pond that housed two brown rabbits. Few well fed white ducks roamed around, looking trifle disgusted with us humans while we hungry souls remained focused on the biryani and wine. 
Out for a leisurely stroll
 
Disappointments:
a)      They do not accept plastic money.
Given that the company is interacting with consumers directly through these tours there is a high chance of converting them to loyalists. There should be an option of purchasing a bottle or two, once the customer is impressed enough (mostly post tasting). Most of us do not roam around with extra cash these days and we though we wanted to purchase a bottle each, we left without doing so.

b)      Lunch was what you call a ‘slight disaster’.
The big group of 30 photographers (all the way from  UK) had also joined us for lunch and given that all of us had paid for it in advance, it did turn us off when we realized that food was scarce. Since there was only one main dish – biryani, we all were left with no options but to remain half fed!  

As I headed back towards Bangalore, lulled by the sun, satiated with wine and endowed with additional knowledge, I had a smile of contentment. I will in all possibility go back.

Napa valley, someday we will meet. Someday, I will watch a sunset with you. But till then, the not-yet-sexily-named valley at the foothills of Nandi Hill will do for meJ

4 comments:

Prolaap said...

Nice. I am sure this would be great as a nice day trip when you have nothing to do on a Sat morn. It is a zillion times better than lazying the entire day and going to one of those innumerable malls in the evening and doing...Blah!

I have never visited a vineyard. This sure sounds nice, leisurely, and different.

Swati said...

Very informative and sounds like you had a total blast....I'd love to visit some day! Didn't you get to jump in vats full of grapes though? :)

baldjata said...

good crisp narrative style, though the, thankfully, rare dissertative flourish can sometimes smother the pace and 'atmosphere'. the photographs are excellent, great chiaroscuro!! look forward to something from you on a line which transforms the humdrum to fantasy: your evening at home with a book, perhaps??

gardenerat60 said...

Your narrative style is very good . Enjoyed reading and also wanting to read more.

It all sounds so easy and fun. Thanks for sharing.