The last time I visited the Sula Vineyards in Nashik was about eight years ago. I relaxed at The Tasting Room, enjoyed the scenic view of the vineyards and soaked in the peacefulness of the area. At that time, the open-air amphitheatre was nearing completion and I was told that it was destined to host music festivals. This year, finally, I joined the thousands of people who flocked here from all parts of the country, and the world, for the eighth edition of SulaFest, a "Gourmet World Music Festival".
On the sunny afternoon of 7 February, I found a very upmarket crowd enjoying the festival. There was music in the air as people tucked into food from stalls set up by Café Zoe, Woodside Inn, Maroosh, Busago and the like. Other folks lazed under the shade of trees, while many more sat savouring their wines at The Tasting Room, laughing, chatting, making merry. Girls sashayed about in pretty dresses, shopping at the SulaFest bazaar; some got foot massages, whilst others paid Rs 250 for 10 minutes of grape stomping. Vero Moda, the presenting sponsor, had a large pop-up store at the venue, where they displayed their Spring Summer Collection for 2015 (which was also launched at the Fest).
I made my way to the amphitheatre, aka the Main Stage, where the band Kefaya was performing to about a 1000 or so people who sat on the stairs braving the sun and enjoying the music. Once the sun went down, the Main Stage was completely packed and to my surprise some 10,000 people danced and grooved to Cuban music (In all my life I've only met a handful of people in India who enjoy world music)! It didn't matter that the majority of people there could not follow the Spanish lyrics of Cuban Beats All Stars - they were still having the best time possible. It seemed the SulaFest had attracted the educated, the rich, and the cream of India's society, besides a good number of music and wine lovers from around the world.
I got a chance to speak with Rajeev Samant, Founder & CEO, Sula Vineyards, and asked him if any festival in particular had inspired the SulaFest. He replied, "My first experience at a rock concert was in California. At Stanford there was a beautiful amphitheatre, called Frost. I saw the Grateful Dead perform there for the first time. This Fest has shades of that experience. We're just learning and improving and getting better every year. We attempt to always bring different artists from different countries and different genres." This year there were 14 bands from 10 nationalities and 16 different genres. Their second stage, Atmasphere, was where international DJs played some incredible house and techno, and post 8pm on both days, it was nearly impossible to enter that area.
Lucky Ali performing at the SulaFest. Picture courtesy LifeSpice.in. View more photographs of the SulaFest here.
The American Indie-Rock band, Young the Giant, was the headline act of the Sula Fest. However, the biggest hit turned out to be Lucky Ali. On Sunday, 8 February, the Fest was much more packed than the previous day, and as Lucky got onto the Main Stage some 15,000 people screamed out to welcome him. Song after song, the crowd sang along with Ali. At that moment, he seemed to be India's biggest rock star.
After the performance, Lucky said, "This has been very special because the crowd is so connected. I enjoyed performing for them. They sang with me and it was all very nice."
The Sula Seco Rose was the official wine of the Fest. "It's a little bit of strawberries, a little bit of honey, as sweet as the crowd and as fresh as the festive line-up of bands we have at SulaFest! It's a very happening, exciting and bubbly wine," said Cecilia Oldne, Global Brand Ambassador & Head - International Business of Sula Vineyards. Those of you who've downed one sauvignon blanc too many, the Seco Rose should be a refreshing change.
Another highlight of the Fest was the restaurant at Sula Vineyards - Soleil by La Plage - which is run by the talented team of Goa's famous restaurant La Plage. I wound up my Sunday at a quiet table within this restaurant. Everything came beautifully plated, and tasted incredible. The cheese risotto was my favourite among the mains. For dessert, the gooey warm chocolate cake was presented with a simple cooled custard - a divine combination. I caught Chef Morgan Rainforth on his way out after wrapping up a very busy weekend. He shared with me the joy he gets in cooking with vegetables picked fresh from the 2 acres of organic farms at Sula. Incidentally, a new menu for Soleil by La Plage will be out by the beginning of March, if not sooner. The hero of the new menu will be crepes, and that alone gives me reason enough to return to this property.
While the Fest is a wonderful experience, Sula Vineyards alone is worth a trip for the wine, food and its picturesque setting. In 2007 I had seen their 'Beyond by Sula' gateway resort being built by the lake, close to the winery. I hope to go back soon and this time around enjoy an experience 'Beyond' the wines, music and revelry.