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2004 Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Nashik, India

sula_CheninBlanc2004.jpgRegular readers know I jump at any opportunity to try interesting wines, especially from regions that I'm unfamiliar with. I've been hearing about Indian wines off and on for a while now, and I took special note when I saw recently that some famous winemakers like Michel Rolland were going there to help people make wine. India is such a huge country with such a wide range of topography that there just have to be places that are good for growing wine grapes, provided there were people with the interest and the expertise to do so.

Apparently, the Nashik region of northern Maharashtra has been growing table grapes with success for decades, so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to sink some wine vines in the ground and see what happened.

One of the earliest pioneers was Rajeev Samant. Samant was a Stanford-educated software engineer who at a certain point in his career as a finance manager at Oracle decided there was another path he needed to take through life. He quit his job and decided to follow his passion for wine back to his home country. After some initial investigations and after enlisting the help of California winemaker Kerry Damskey (recently of Palmeri Vineyards and several others) Samant took a gamble and started what was effectively India's first commercial winery.

Sula Vineyards has now been around for almost 10 years and its hard to call it anything other than an unqualified success, if only for the fact that it has not only created an Indian wine industry from scratch, but also because wine consumption in India has been growing steadily since Sula wines appeared on the market there. In addition to making wines for local consumption, Samant has also taken the step of becoming an importer in order to better contribute to the growth of the industry.

Sula Vineyards makes a large number of wines including a Shiraz; a Zinfandel; a Cabernet/Shiraz blend; a Merlot; a red blend, white blend, and rose that all include some indigenous Indian varieties, a Rose of Zinfandel, a Sauvignon Blanc, a sparkling wine, a late harvest Chenin Blanc, as well as this off-dry Chenin Blanc.

The grapes are grown in the foothills of the Western Ghats, the mountains found about 200km outside of Mumbai, India. In certain places these rolling hills resemble the stairs down to rivers and lakes (which are also referred to as ghats), and they offer well drained soils and a fairly wide range of day and night temperatures as required for healthy vinifera vines. Sula seems to be focused on sustainable agricultural practices such as organic composting instead of chemical fertilizers, and hopes to be fully fertilizer and pesticide free some day.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this wine, not because it ended up being profound, but because it is clearly a solidly made wine, without flaws, and an excellent value. Having had the chance to taste it I will be encouraged to try other Indian wines, and to check out the vineyards whenever it is that I make it to India for a visit.

Finally, let me go on record here as saying that I'm sure someone will eventually find some good limestone terroir in the Northern foothills of that subcontinent (roughly at the same latitude as California's Central Coast), and one day we'll even see really high-end wines coming from India. Who knows? They might even come from Sula.

Tasting Notes:
A classic straw color in the glass this wine has a soft nose of stewed apples, lychee fruit, and a hint of minerality. In the mouth it has a light sweetness with a good acid balance and primary flavors of tart Fuji apples. The fruit flavors and the sweetness remain crisp and pleasant throughout the palate, though lacking in significant complexity. Well chilled, this is a very pleasant, if uncomplicated wine to drink, especially with spicy foods.

Food Pairing:
It's not surprising that this Indian wine might pair well with a wide variety of Indian foods. I had it with squid in a red curry and chives sauce as well as with a Tamil lamb curry, and it met the intense heat and complex exotic spices of both extremely well.

Overall Score: 8/8.5

How Much?: $13

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

Comments (15)

Winesmith wrote:
07.19.06 at 7:14 PM

Thanks for the review. I'll try to find this wine (or get it online). As long as you're going on the record about high-end wines from India, I was wondering if you had similar thoughts about China. I've been seeing article after article about Chinese winemakers importing vines, equipment, and brains from France, Italy, Austrlia and other wine-making regions. I personally think that entrepreneurial winemakers in China will use the 2008 Beijing Olympics to debut on the international scene. [At least that would be my plan!]

Todd Eng wrote:
07.19.06 at 10:11 PM

I have also enjoyed the Sula Chenin Blanc (for exactly what it is, a light uncomplicated thirst quencher) but I haven't yet tried their Shiraz. They carry both at Dosa, I believe, and it is a good match for Indian cuisine.

Winesmith, do you have any links for those Chinese imports? I'm curious. . . . As for Chinese wines, I haven't seen or tasted any made from vinifera (though I don't doubt that, like India, somewhere in China there is a good grape-growing climate), but I have tried Shao Hsing rice wine, which is nothing like Japanese sake, more like a mellow, fragrant, slightly sweet sherry. It's pretty tasty!

Alder wrote:
07.19.06 at 10:30 PM


I've had one pretty decent wine from China which has led me to believe that someone must be making EXCELLENT wine somewhere.

Here's my review: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2006/03/1995_hau_xia_cabernet_sauvigno.html


Jack wrote:
07.19.06 at 11:38 PM

I had the 2003 (? - can't find my record - hmmm!) - which I thought was more of an 8.5 on your scale. It was good enough to have again.

Geoff Smith wrote:
07.20.06 at 10:18 AM

I think the wine business in India has been going on for quite a while Alder (meaning this would not really be the first 'commercial' winery there).

As I recall, my friend Rafael Brisbois was making sparkling wine in India in the 70's for some franco-indian winery near Bangalore.



Alder wrote:
07.20.06 at 10:29 AM


Ah. Perhaps I stand corrected and am a sucker for the shpiel written on the winery's web site. Sigh. If I was a real journalist I would have spent a week researching this topic.

Thanks for keeping me straight.

Dezel wrote:
07.20.06 at 8:23 PM


Thanks for your review of the wine. Being a lover of Indian cuisine I will try to find this at one of the larger wine stores nearby.

I was also probing to find out if anyone has any experience in Russian wines. A number of years ago (7-8) on a business trip to Russia I purchased an inexpensive Russian wine. I knew nothing of wine then but was dazzled by the bottle so I picked it up. Well 8 years later, and 1 year (newbie alert) into enjoying and learning about wine I find myself curious to find what is inside this bottle. I’m uncertain if it is still good or has aging potential or if it is red or white for that matter. The following is a link to pictures I took of the bottle:


If anyone has a clue what it is please respond.

Thanks in advance, and I hope to find that bottle of Chenin Blanc.


Jack wrote:
07.20.06 at 10:44 PM

Well, it's a Georgian wine from Khvanchkara, but that's all I could figure out. Very, very cool-looking bottle. Was it made of clay or glass?

Dezel wrote:
07.21.06 at 2:56 PM

Hi Jack,

It is a clay bottle and certainly an eye catcher. Thanks for your input; I'm going to do some searching around before popping the cork on this pup.



Alder wrote:
07.22.06 at 10:46 AM

This from a Russian friend of mine: "Its not a Russian wine, although Russia does produce its own wine in the Krasnodar region.

Its Khvanchkara, from like named Georgian Khvanchkara region, semi-sweet as are all the wines produced there. Swill, if you ask me, one dimensional prune juice if you want to be more precise. Available at any Russian deli around for $12-15 a bottle, about $12-15 more than its worth, although I could see how that sweetness might play well with spicy Indian food."

There you go.

Dezel wrote:
07.22.06 at 6:35 PM

Hey thanks Alder,

I think I will give this bottle to my sister who enjoys a nice semi sweet wine and ask for the $12 - $15 dollar bottle back (lol). I did some research as well, and in addition to what you have explained I will be crossing my fingers that the wine is still good. Experts’ say that these sorts of wines should be drank young because the clay bottle is not ideal for the wine's longevity.


GregP wrote:
07.23.06 at 9:26 AM

Actually, its not a clay bottle. Its a GLASS bottle encased in clay, I guess they need to make the package look more upscale in order to justify the price. IMO, the glass itself is worth more than the wine inside.

That said, these wines are not made to age.

07.23.06 at 12:20 PM

Sula's Chenin Blanc is my favorite as well. I found undertones of pineapple and stonefruit on the nose, very feeble though. It takes a while to open up like it's Sauvignon cousin. Sula's Sauvignon comes as a surprise as well.

Vinayak Singal wrote:
11.24.06 at 5:52 AM

Please can some one tell where to look for information regarding wine buying behaviour in Indian consumers..plz help

Roy wrote:
01.02.07 at 11:33 AM

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