Thursday, 4 April 2013

India: day three

The Four Seasons Winery

The tranquillity of the hotel didn’t last long as I was up early to go to Four Seasons Winery in Baramati. It’s about 90km beyond the little-known, 3.7 million population town of Pune, some 250km to the south east of Mumbai.  The punctuality of the Indians is quite remarkable and as the second hand struck the 12 to make it 6am, the driver was coming into the lobby! A tall chap whose name I didn’t catch; he rather reminded me of an Indian Ian Rush! (A Liverpool football player from the 80’s for those who don’t know).

I spent the next 6 hours in the car with Indian Ian Rush and I still don’t know his name. He didn’t speak English apart from piping up after two hours saying: “McDonald’s coffee very good, not spicy”. He had kindly stopped just for me, the westerner. Coffee wasn’t spicy. Or good. 

The Mumbai to Pune Expressway, or as it is officially known: ‘the Yashwantrao Chavan Mumbai Pune Expressway’ is an interesting construction in itself. It’s India's first six-lane, concrete, tolled auto route; covering a distance of 93 km, connecting Mumbai with Pune. Apparently this ‘expressway’ introduced new levels of speed and safety in automobile transportation to Indian roads. The driver was very proud of this fact; shame about the three hours to get out of Mumbai, the cows in the middle of the road and the two hours to get through the centre of Pune! 

Pune is an interesting place, with a much drier and cooler climate than Mumbai. When the British took it in 1817, Pune soon became the Bombay Presidency’s capital during the monsoon season.

We carried on to the even-drier area of Baramati which, at a height of 538m, has ideal growing conditions for sugarcane, table grapes and now – with some irrigation – wine! Out of nowhere the Four Seasons Winery pops up; a sort of French Chateau with a drive you could run out of petrol on.

I was met by the very animated and Mr Bean-like Mr. Balakrishina, along with his trusty sidekick and cellar master. Quickly, my bags were taken and I was whisked up the entrance steps, through the lobby (where a security guard frightened the life out of me by standing to attention and saluting), up the large stairs to the first floor and to my magnificent suite! I had 30 minutes to recover before meeting them back in the lobby for a vineyard, winery tour.

Grapes were coming in; people everywhere; three men to switch on a pump; security guards everywhere … I even had a guard guarding the bottles during the tasting!

I loved the women in saris in the winery. Fabulous colour but not a great idea around machinery perhaps, but hey this is India!

I had a great time tasting through all the barrels and planning a possible blend. The wines are really good here and with some changes, the potential is very exciting indeed.

Dinner was a strange experience, being a one-on-one with Mr Balakrishina: food ordered from a hotel in Baramati town (30km away) and served by a waiter in a hair net I had recognised earlier from the cellar!

Mr Balakrishina turned on the projector TV and put on his favourite Bollywood movie and I was glad of an early night.

Mr Balakrishina had told me at 7am he would take me for a brisk morning walk to see the wildlife. Now used to Indian punctuality, I set my alarm for 6am to be sure I was ready. Mr Balakrishina didn’t get up until 7:30 and the brisk walk was an amble in one direction for 15 minutes, turning around retracing our exact steps. Never saw any wildlife.

Approaching the winery, I could hear from a distance the chatter of the women arriving for the sorting table. Then I see them: a group of 10-12 women in their brightly coloured saris standing out from the sandy coloured surroundings! The people work long hours on the sorting tables and in the winery.

I met up with vineyard manager Dr Deokate, a very interesting man, and he took me on a thorough vineyard tour, explaining the way they have to harvest, prune and spray in this tropical climate.

The vineyard is a busy place and it’s first time I have seen simultaneous pruning and harvesting!

I am looking forward to returning in six weeks’ time to see the wines.  Off to New Zealand tomorrow; apparently it’s a superb vintage there so watch this space for more details!

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