Thursday, 3 July 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Sula Vineyards to Serve a Slice of Goa at its Destination Winery

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I FIRST went to Nashik, India's wine country, about a decade ago and spent a couple of nights at what was then Sula Vineyards founder-CEO Rajeev Samant's home in the winery he had launched with the promise to put what he described as "our own Napa Valley" on the world wine map.
Goa's most famous shack restaurant, La Plage
(above), opens this Sunday in a gaily colourful
setting at Sula Vineyards, Nashik, giving wine
tourism in India a fashionable new direction

It was in the middle of a blazing summer, but as soon as the evening would set in, a rejuvenating cool breeze swept the leaves off the courtyard and brought the mercury down by a good number of notches. That was the signal for the cook to bring out my favourite Dindori Shiraz, a hearty red that turned out to be a match made in heaven for his Kolhapuri chicken. I used to wonder then if Nashik's newbie wineries such as Sula would be able to capitalise on their location in the lap of nine lone hills of the Sahyadris and make wine tourism a viable business vertical in what was till then an industrial town whose only other claim to fame was (and will forever be) its proximity to Shirdi, hometown of the original Sai Baba.
A decade later, Samant, a Stanford graduate who did a stint at Oracle, has not only made Sula the country's top wine brand straddling 70 per cent of the market, but also turned Nashik into a premier wine tourism destination. His old house has made way for a boutique hotel and last year, Sula's vineyards drew over 170,000 visitors from all over the world. It was a model that Vijay Mallya's Four Seasons wines sought to replicate in a picture-perfect Italian villa at Baramati (Sharad Pawar's bastion in the backyard of Pune) till the company's financial troubles got the better of the project. Fratelli, a successful new wine player, has also been doing something similar, though on a more modest scale, at its state-of-the-art winery in Akluj, the old cotton trade outpost in Maharashtra's Solapur district.
Sula, however, continues to be the leader in this new business, and now, by teaming up with a Goan institution, the celebrated French restaurant La Plage, it has taken wine tourism to a serious new level. For Samant, getting La Plage (whose restaurant at Sula Vineyards, which opens on Sunday, July 6, is called Soleil) to Nashik was "a big thing personally" because, as he explained to me, his second home, which is in Goa, is just behind the restaurant on Ashwem Beach in Morjim.
Imagine savouring a glass of Sula's
award-winning Shiraz, Rasa, even as you
soak in the verdant scenery of vineyards
in the shadow of the Sahyadri hills!
La Plage, which literally means 'the beach', is a stylish shack restaurant, which was launched in 2002 as a humble six-table establishment serving breakfast and lunch. Its founding trio -- Morgan Rainforth, a Welsh-French national who had studied cookery in Provence and had had enough of working with temperamental French chefs; his girlfriend Florence Tarbouriech, whom he met in Barcelona; and her long-time friend Serge Lozano -- fell in love with Goa on a backpacking visit and decided to stay on by doing what they knew best: running a restaurant. It turned out to be a gastronomic coup and very soon, celebrities from Amitabh Bachchan to Jeremy Irons and Kate Moss joined La Plage's growing fan following, savouring the French fare that Rainforth dished up with remarkable consistency.
International acclaim has been pouring in on Rainforth and his mates, like Goa's monsoon showers, and though the thatch-roofed restaurant, guarded by palms bent by centuries of sea breeze, stays shut from April to November, its loyalists show up without fail as soon as it opens for its unbeatable chicken liver pate with onion jam and the Thali au Chocolat. Well-known for being a ceaseless innovator, Rainforest surprises his guests with the tasteful simplicity of dishes such as fillets of tuna, served rare and encrusted with sesame seeds, and drizzled with a sweet-tangy soy sauce; or calamari stuffed with ratatouille; or the sardine filets with wasabi cream. Just the kind of food that'll make you yearn for a bottle of wine.

SWISS SCOOPS WARM UP ICE-CREAM MARKET

Movenpick has arrived in Delhi
with new global flavours such as
the popular crème brûlée (above)
AT RS 175 A SCOOP, Mövenpick is the second international premium ice-cream brand to enter Delhi (at the Select Citywalk, Saket) after Haagen Dasz, which despite its "Danish-sounding" name (a tribute to the treatment of Jews in Denmark during World War II) was born in Bronx, New York. Mövenpick is Swiss, the brainchild of a restaurateur named Ueli Prager, who opened his first outlet in Zurich in 1948, and the name he gave it is now famous as the ice-cream brand.
The restaurant became famous for the unusual ice-cream flavours on its menu, and as its outlets opened across Switzerland, the brand Mövenpick was born, but only after its takeover by Nestle in 2003 did it spread internationally.
 Boston University MBA Tarun Sikka
is the premium ice-cream brand's
national franchisee
Mövenpick first arrived in India in 2008, but the going wasn't good and its operations were wound down. With a young franchisee, Boston University MBA Tarun Sikka, driving it now, the ice-cream brand entered the country from Chennai and Delhi is its second pit stop. Bangalore and Mumbai are the cities next on its growth trajectory, and Sikka is confident, "without being over-ambitious", that he'll be able to cater to the niche market that Movenpick serves. "Do you know Movenpick is the top-selling ice-cream brand in Bangladesh?" Sikka declares triumphantly, adding that it's already on the menu of 30 hotels across India, including the Taj in Delhi and Grand Hyatt in Mumbai.
What I find refreshing about Mövenpick ice-creams is their unusual range of flavours -- crème brûlée is my personal favourite and I believe its masala chai variant is an international fast mover. The ice-creams are without artificial preservatives or flavourings, yet they are produced in such a way that their shelf life is 18 months; the sorbets hold good for a year. Each season, Mövenpick releases two sets of ice-cream: 16 flavours are fixed and another seven or eight are from its 'experimental' range, but what sets each one of them apart is the flavour intensity provided by the six or seven layers of the base ingredient in each scoop. There's a reason why good taste comes at a price.

NO CELEBRATION FOR OLD MONK AS IT FUMBLES IN YOUNG MARKET

ONE of the most anticipated rankings in the business of beverages is the global wine and spirits consultancy IWSR's Real 100 List, which stacks up local brews that are more powerful than most international best-sellers.
The old market leader has been left way behind
by United Spirits Limited's Celebration rum,
the world's No. 9 alcoholic beverage
This year's Top Ten List has two pieces of news relevant to our market. One is that Officer's Choice, which grew by nearly 5.5 million nine-litre cases in 2013, surpassing McDowell's No. 1, is officially the world's largest-selling whisky at 24.16 million cases. Across beverage categories, the two are at Nos. 5 and 6, compared with Johnnie Walker's No. 8 (19.28 million cases).
The second news, and this is a shocker, is that Mohan Meakin's Old Monk, for long the country's top-selling  Indian Made Foreign Liquor brand and the world No. 2 rum after Bacardi, has officially been relegated into a far corner by another United Spirits Limited (USL) heavy-hitter, Celebration, which reached 18.9 million cases (and the No. 9 position) in 2013. For those of us who've lost our alcoholic virginity with Old Monk, it's sad to see its sorry decline because of bad marketing and lousy distribution. Mohan Meakin's geriatric leadership doesn't seem to realise that nostalgia alone doesn't get the cash registers ringing.

KOREA'S JINRO SOJU IS THE WORLD'S NO. 1 ALCOBEV

WHAT makes Jinro special? For starters, it is the world's most consumed alcoholic beverage brand, it is produced in South Korea, and it sold 65.66 million nine-litre cases in 2013, according the global wine and spirits consultancy IWSR's authoritative Real 100 List. Jinro has been in the business of making soju, the Korean cousin of vodka, since 1924 and it was acquired by Hite, the manufacturer of Korea's largest-selling beer, in 2008. What's interesting about Jinro is that its label tells you whether it's being served to you at the right temperature. Each bottle comes with a temperature-sensitive paper tab in the shape of a frog, the company's label. It is white when the bottle is warm, but turns blue when it is cold and drinkable. Cool, isn't it?

This column first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated July 3, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers