It’s morning but the heat is already enervating. A dry, barren plain stretches out before me. The air is dry. The landscape almost like a surreal scene from a dystopian flick. The odd patch of green struggling against the aridness. Your car turns the corner, off the Sholapur-Pune highway, onto a rough road, and then you see it. Looming in the distance is a strange palace-like structure. White minarets almost echoing a French chateau. An helipad in the corner as the huge wrought iron gates allow you through. The earthy landscape gives way to vines. As far as you can see. Some are still green. Some still have the last remnants of this season’s grapes clinging to them. Some are stripped bare, waiting for the next season. A fountain awaits the rains as you climb the imposing steps of Four Seasons’ chateau.
Wine, as a drink of choice, has slowly edged its way into the Indian consciousness. Once considered an elite, mature drink, wine has been finding more acceptance even among typically beer-guzzling youth. The serenity that greets you at Four Seasons is a far cry from a raucous pub. There are no bartenders here. No 90s music. Or even 80s music. Or whatever it is that they play in pubs these days. Instead, listen carefully and you will hear the constant twittering of birds.
An unfamiliar smell wafts across as I enter the chateau. It takes me a minute, but I realize soon what it is. It isn’t cloying, but the aroma reminds me faintly of pears, apples, honeydew melon, and then, yes, grapes. It stays with me, throughout my stay, a gentle reminder of grace and beauty here, in the midst of what seems to me a desolate plain.
I make my way to my room, up a wooden staircase. At Four Seasons, each of the rooms is named after one wine-growing region. Beautifully furnished, my room has its own balcony that faces the courtyard. Outside, I can hear sparrows and I think about a time when Bangalore had thousands of sparrows. Evening, I would stand on the terrace, grains in my hand, back when I was a child, waiting for the day a sparrow would land on my hand. They never did. I don’t try that here. But I listen to the music, awash in memory.
Outside, the sun is ablaze. But as I begin my tour of the winery, it can’t be cooler. Fresh grapes from Baramati are just being unloaded. The grapes used for wine are different. Smaller. And sweeter. Delectably sweet. I watch as the grapes are crushed, ready for the next step. For white wine, the grape skins are removed before fermentation. For red wine, it’s different. It’s the grape skin that that gives the wine its rich color. Huge stainless steel tanks beckon me in the next room. Carefully temperature-controlled and insulated, the huge vats are glistening cold to the touch. My tour guide then shows me the barrel room, where oak barrels hold already fermented wine for maturation. “Not all wines go through maturation in barrels,” the guide informs me, as he gives me some wine straight from the barrel, and then takes me to the bottling room. It’s here that the wine is bottled, labeled, and then marked for its eventual journey.
I think of the grapes that I saw just an hour ago. And I see the hundreds of bottles of Four Seasons-labeled wine in front of me. It doesn’t seem possible that could have led to this – but the proof, as they say, is in the wine. At the sampling session, I learn how to hold the wine glass. By the stem! Holding it by the stem means that you will not affect the wine with your body temperature. Sip. Swirl. And take a whiff. Distinguish the notes of a Shiraz from a Barrique. It’s all new to me, but my guide is patient. I am delighted when soon enough I can get the faint floral notes in a Viognier, a dry white wine. In the Merlot, I learn the aromas of fresh fruits. “Plums,” my guide encourages me. “Vanilla?” I offer, hesitantly. It’s indeed a fine art, this. Having never known wine like this, I am awed at the nuances we give it. There’s a quiet grace to wine, a subtle refinement that precludes beauty. It demands of you a keener understanding. And gives you a lot more. A sense and appreciation of life.
Fast Facts: Four Seasons’ winery is situated around an hour’s drive from Pune. Tours can be arranged on prior intimation. You can stay overnight at the chateau. I recommend it. An early morning walk there is a balm to the soul.
Disclosure: I was at Four Seasons at their invite. The views here, as you may expect from me, are entirely mine, and not promotional.