Passion in a bottle
At a blind tasting session at a plush Mumbai hotel, wine experts unanimously raised a toast to Vallonné Merlot and awarded it the ‘Commended Wine of the Year’ title. This was at the prestigious Sommelier India Wine Competition in November 2009. And Vallonné wines were yet to be introduced in the already crowded market.
There’s been no looking back; be it critical acclaim, customer acceptance or the wines’ popularity at festivals. Eight months since its launch, Vallonné’s five varietals have made a splash across upmarket cafes, restaurants and stores, no mean feat in a market that is flooded with wines in every price tag and varietal. Be it wine aficionadas in Goa, connoisseurs in Bangalore or the society set in Mumbai, Vallonneé is fast emerging as the much loved and preferred wine. He key of course, is quality and the unique niche that Vallonneé has created for itself as a ‘boutique winery’. “We didn’t want to be a me-too winery. Our entire focus is on quality and we truly started making wine in the vineyards by cultivating the highest quality grapes,” says Shailendra Pai, Managing Director and CEO. Despite a built-in capacity of 22,000 cases, Vallonneé is restricting its production to 6000 cases per year.
A visit to the sprawling lush estates on the foothills of the Sahyadris instantly reminds you that Vallonneé is indeed different. The location is idyllic; the rolling vineyards overlook a sparkling lake, transporting you to a picture-perfect romantic world of fine wines. Built on the lines of a nouveau-chateau (combining old world French charm with contemporary style and functionality), the winery pays great attention to detail. The vineyards are south-facing, enjoying plenty of sunshine and aeration for healthy
growth of vines. The cellars are tucked away 20feet below the ground to ensure natural cooling. He charm doesn’t stop at the aesthetics. The machinery, barrels, corks and fining agents are all sourced from France, making it India’s first all-French wine set-up. Wine maker Marie Barbé comes from Bordeaux, the world’s best known wine region. After all, the French are pioneers in the world of wines and Vallonné blend the Old World and New World techniques effectively. Vallonné is the result of a dream that Pai has cherished for the last two decades. As Vice President of Champagne India Ltd. In the late eighties, he took an instant liking to wines. Finally in 2004, four years after the Maharashtra Government relaxed licensing norms, he set u Renaissance Winery in Nashik in the same year, along with two friends and a local business partner. With its first crush, the winery quickly won recognition for its well-made and marketed wine, and set out to create a unique concept in the world of mass-produced wines. His dream was a ‘boutique’ winery were quality was supreme.
It was one phone call to old friend Alan Viegas in Goa that set the ball rolling, a veteran in the real estate business, Viegas promptly sold off some property that the two friends held jointly and raised the starting capital for the project with help from two eager partners, Karl Coelho and Prashant Thanawala. Coelho during his 17 year long stay in Japan had developed a keen palate for wines and jumped at the idea of pitching in for the winery. “The idea of this winery was to create an overall experience around wines with wine tourism and wine education. If consumption of wine has to se a sharp increase, awareness is a must but this was ignored by industry leaders,” explains Pai. He shuttles between the winery carefully maintaining checks on production and viticulture and conducting tastings in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore while Viegas and Coelho man the show in Goa.
Vallonné’s offerings were lapped up by wine lovers and connoisseurs alike. The wines are being widely acknowledged as among India’s best by sommeliers and experts. The best compliment is when people come back and specifically ask for Vallonné wines,” says Karl Coelho.
With accolades at tastings and wine festivals in its kitty, the two year old winery is gearing up for its second vintage to be launched in October.