In any other circumstances, this would be a thirst-inducing travel story, detailing in vivid colour the sights and sounds of Mumbai – the nearest gateway airport – all the way to sleepy Akluj, a 6-hour car ride away. However, as physical travel remains elusive for the time being, we can instead be transported to exotic lands through wine, one of the few noble agricultural products that accurately captures the soul of its terroir. And what I found in Akluj is indeed a lot of heart and soul.
A Family Affair
Winemaking in India took off in earnest in the mid-1990s, leading to the establishment of major wine production areas including Nashik, Bangalore, Northern Karnataka and Pune. It is near Pune that we find Fratelli Vineyards, which – true to its name – owns its own vines, making it the largest vineyard owner in India.
Established in 2006, Fratelli, meaning brothers, is a partnership between three sets of brothers, Alessio and Andrea Secci, Ranjitand Arjun Mohite-Patil, and Gaurav and Kapil Sekhri. The seventh person in this equation is Tuscan viticulturist and oenologist Piero Masi, who was persuaded to come aboard once convinced of the intended quality of the project.
There were plenty of hurdles. The rocky, calcareous soils of Akluj were identified after a few rounds of soil testing, due to its resemblance to similar nutrient-poor soils in Chianti, and so finally 240 acres in Motewadi, Nimgaon and Garwad sites were procured for their top lines, alongside a further 300 acres under contract. 350,000 vine saplings comprising 12 different grape varieties were brought in from France and Italy, but kept in regulatory limbo for almost four months, leading to doubts that they survived. Through some ingenuity and luck, they managed to slowly thaw out the saplings, have them planted, and Fratelli’s first harvest in 2010 was realised.
Immersed in nature
At the fully equipped winery at Motewadi, it is not the shiny 58 multi-capacity tanks or the fully equipped laboratory that visitors come for, but the hospitable tasting room and modest guestrooms that have helped open the door to further wine appreciation among the domestic market. There are four bedrooms, a shared living space and fully catered meals, in addition to other package activities such as vineyard tours, tastings in the cellar, 4-wheel drive visit to a scenic hilltop for lunch and more.
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