Ever fancied travelling to a vineyard for a glass of wine or to lush green tea gardens for a cup of the most premium tea ever made? Travelling for beverages is a trend which is catching up all over the world and India hasn’t been left behind. We blaze a trail across the country in search of its best beverages and stories of the people behind them. Our first destination is the Napa Valley of India in Maharashtra producing wines that are conquering awards on an international basis now followed by a trip down south to explore the coffee plantations which are slowly but steadily becoming a staple across Starbucks and ending in the luscious foothills of the tea gardens in the eastern Himalayas.
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Vineyards in the West
Set among the sloping low hills of the Deccan, the Fratelli vineyards in Solapur is not only putting India on the wine world map, but also providing employment to scores of families locally. Chief winemaker Piero Masi has taken samplings from the Old world and is growing them in our indigenous soils to create quite a few wonderful wines, many of which are winning awards in competitions abroad. Assisted by an army of local workers who not only farm the grape but also maintain the winery, the wines is as indigenous as a product can be.
The Cabarnet Sauvignon and Sangiovese are collected from the vineyards and go in the making of the vineyard’s best: the SETTE. After a break, the grape collection begins in the afternoon. These plucked grapes are then sent to the winery where they undergo the process of crushing and fermenting. The other processes of bottling and labelling are also carried out side by side. While staying at the Fratelli Vineyards, trying out the Maharashtrian local food is one of the most interesting wine pairings that you can try out. Cooked by locals, the food is spicy and hits all the right spots on the palate. We recommend combining it with the SETTE ’15.
Coffee plantations in the South
The hit of roasted coffee hits my nostrils even before I enter the coffee estates of South. Built on the hills of Southern India, these cool climate plantations produce India’s best Arabica coffee. The plantations not only grow coffee but a plethora of other spices including Cardamom and Cinnamon. At John’s Windermere Estate in Munnar, I decide to take a walk in overcast conditions. This hundred-year-old British coffee plantation has an old world charm that’s hard to beat.
A bit north to Munnar lie the Tata’s coffee plantations in Coorg. Lined up with quite a few colonial styled Bungalows, the Plantation Trails allow you to take a break from all the city hustle and lose yourself in the calm. The lush green plantations are a relief to the frazzled senses as one lets the smell of the forest fill self along with its sounds. I head out with the Estate manager to go through the whole process of making coffee, right from the bean to cup. Here, the coffee beans are hand plucked followed by a process of drying, roasting and finally producing the world-class coffee that we have truly come to recognize. Far away at my home in Delhi, I remember the journey every time I sip my Arabica at Starbucks. You can also pick up a pair of binoculars to explore the abundant chirping birds on the plantations.
Tea gardens in the East
One of the most iconic elements of the British Raj was Tea and they literally grew it like a weed on the slopes of the Eastern Himalayas. The Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling not only offers a peek into the stay during the Britishers but also allows one to taste some of the first flush Orange Pekoe.
Although mechanization has been pervading most of the tea estates, the two leaves and the bud are still picked by hand here. The tea leaves are then put through a careful process of drying which reduces the moisture down to 14%. As Darlene leads me through the estate, she shows me how the tea pluckers pick up the tea in their gardens before shepherding them into piles and bringing it over to the factory by evening. After the drying process, the tea leaves then go through a process of literally separating the chaff from the grain, or in this the CTC from the other high-end brands. But any tea session in Bengal is not quite complete without the quintessential English tea time snacks: the Mutton Cutlet and the Mocchar Chop.
India’s beverages may have been topping the world’s drinking charts for quite some time but now its beverage destinations will start drawing people towards their lush greenery and serenity.