More than just vines
You’re fascinated by the cherry red colour, and the gentle, tinkling sound of the liquid hitting the crystal, completely oblivious to the gleaming steel tanks around you. At Vallonne Vineyards, you sit mesmerised as wine is poured into a sparkling Bordeaux glass for you to sniff, swirl and roll around in your mouth. You can discover the flavours on your own or the person conducting the tasting can tell you whether the notes are fruity, floral, spicy, woody, or a combination. Either way, the hour-long tour and tasting at Vallonne Vineyards is a lot of fun.
On this getaway, you can learn about the journey of grapes from vine to bottle and decipher the nuances of a dry or sweet wine from the people who do this for a living. Teetotallers needn’t worry — it’s perfectly acceptable to spit the wine out after a tasting. Should terms like ‘terroir’ and ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ not be a part of your vocabulary, no one will be surprised given that wine making in India is a recent phenomenon, which is why owners of wineries in Maharashtra and Karnataka offer familiarisation sessions.
Even if wine appreciation is not the main agenda on this trip, your spirits will lift as soon as you come upon the property’s wide, open vistas. An undulating landscape of neatly-laid vineyards, untamed shrubbery and paddy fields meets the Mukhne Dam reservoir, set against a backdrop of the Sahyadri mountain range. As you stand on a terrace abutting the onsite Malaka Spice restaurant, a pleasant breeze plays with your hair, setting off a cascade of ripples in the water and paddy fields, and causing the trees to sigh. Swifts glide in tight circles and dive in graceful movements resembling trapeze artistes. Soft music wafts from the restaurant speakers and you involuntarily smile as you drift into a happy space.
When your reverie is broken by the demands of your stomach, move back into the restaurant, lined with photos portraying the journey of Vallonne Vineyards and that of Malaka Spice. A postprandial walk around the property will take you past rows of vines where you can spot birds like red-wattled lapwing, robins and bulbuls foraging for insects. From December to February, you might even spot migratory ducks, kingfishers and other birds that are drawn to the cooler climes and water bodies during this time.
Unlike a day visit, a stay at Vallonne allows you to truly relax and enjoy a view that is undeniably captivating — so much so that it’s reproduced on some of the vineyard’s labels (one Japanese visitor came to these vineyards looking for the place he saw on a label). A mere 10-minute walk takes you to the edge of the reservoir where all you hear is the sounds of nature. Lose yourself in the rustic environs — pluck veggies or grapes in season, or milk a cow, or cycle around the property and stop at Upper Vaitarna Dam’s scenic catchment area to admire the imposing mountains, freshly-ploughed fields, and huts that are witness to a lifestyle very unlike your own. If you crave more action, Vallonne Vineyards has a tie-up with Drumstick Lagoon, so you can take a short drive (9.3km) for an invigorating dip in an infinity pool or pump up the adrenaline with adventure sports like rock climbing, ATV rides and more. The property plans to add a pool, eight more rooms, and a vino spa over the next year. A stay at a vineyard can, after all, be about much more than just vines.
WHERE TO STAY
Vallonne Vineyards: Scenic views and peaceful environs lend Vallonne Vineyards the perfect aura to calm an overworked mind. The building itself seems unremarkable from the outside till you step into the guest rooms. Of the four rooms, two (Premium) offer views of the Mukhne Dam reservoir and Kavnai Peak, while the others (Regular) offer views of the lawns and countryside. Between the rooms is a spacious living area in which you can chill, browse through some of the magazines and books placed there, or have meals if the restaurant is occupied. Simple elegance defines the property’s decor, and original vintage posters of liquor advertisements remind you of its vineyard association. The rooms have air-conditioners, but no TVs or wi-fi.
WHERE TO EAT
There are no restaurants within walking distance, so the onsite Malaka Spice restaurant is your best bet here. It does a good Indian breakfast and decent Southeast Asian meals. The soups and starters have an upper hand over the main course. It exclusively serves Vallonne’s range of wines, sold by the bottle, not by the glass. The Tom Kha Soup and Top Hats served with peanut sauce are delicious. Do try the Roti Kanai, which pairs better with the curries than the slightly sweetish Rotijhala. The variety of curries is limited and a bit mild, so, if you prefer spicy food, do inform the chef while placing your order. The Choco Lava Cake is to die for. The service is good, but you need to allow time for the food to be prepared.
Choose from white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, or reds like Syrah-Merlot or dessert wines like Vin De Passerillage.
CLEAN LOO GUIDE
The drive from Mumbai takes a little less than four hours. On the way down, stop for a loo break and tea or snacks at Food Hub off the Mumbai-Nashik highway. On the return journey, you can stop at Food Way on the same highway.
External roads are not well lit, so avoid walking outside the property at night. Shut doors and windows before it gets dark, else mosquitoes and bugs become uninvited guests in your room. As with any other place in a natural setting, snakes coexist with humans but no bite cases have been reported.
A first-aid kit is available on the property. Minor medical ailments can be treated at a local clinic in Sanjegaon, 1.5km away. Serious cases are referred to Wockhardt Hospital in Nashik, 51km away.
Guest rooms are reached via stairs and have balconies, so parents of toddlers need to be a little watchful. While there are no TVs, there is ample space for kids to play outdoor games, and badminton equipment is provided. Cycles are also available for guests’ use (free). If kids would rather stay put, there are board games. Bring books along though, as the collection here might not interest children.
GOOD TO KNOW
Visit between February and April for grape harvesting and wine production, while December to February is good for bird-watching. The property also hosts a grape-stomping event in the month of December (charges vary as per the amount of grapes used).