It may be beyond belief but the pride of Sula Vineyards ‘Beyond by Sula’, that opened as the first and currently the only full-fledged Resort at a vineyard in India will no longer be a part of the Sula wine tourism, come July 1 when it goes back to the owner Pradeep Pachpatil who owns the villa, resort and the trade mark and the vineyard around it, as the long term lease runs out and will not be renewed, writes Subhash Arora who heard it first hand from Patil a month ago in Nashik
‘Subhash, yes it’s true that Pradeep Pachpatil will take over the reins of the resort when our current contract comes to an end,’ confirms Rajeev Samant, founder Director and CEO of Sula, who may not have pioneered the wine industry (he can rightly stake claim to be the original producer of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel) but was the true pioneer of wine tourism in India-à la California, including landmarks like the Tasting Room, Amphitheatre, top quality restaurants and of course SulaFest- that together bring in 200,000 people to the winery every year for a visit. ‘Pradeep is the owner of the resort and is perfectly within his rights to decide to run it himself and we wish him all the best,’ he says.
I found it incredulous when Pradeep Pachpatil told me over a hurried and rather-delicious lunch at his newly opened restaurant ‘Sufiaana’ last month that he was taking over the management of Beyond by Sula and renaming it Beyond Vineyard Resort by Soma- named after his winery. He has cleverly named it similar to the existing name. In fact, he also started his winery as Somanda (named after his wife and children’s names, he had told me when I visited him a couple of years ago) initially but later shortened it to Soma Vineyards (sounding similar to Sula Vineyards).
A great believer in the future of wine tourism, he tells me, ‘I have witnessed the trend while at Sula and I had pushed RS (as Rajeev Samant is addressed in Sula) to extend my existing villa (which has been leased to Rajeev for his personal use) to ‘Beyond Vineyard Resort’. It was started in 2010 with 12 rooms. Rajeev wanted me to expand it to 20 rooms but I constructed the 22 room property with expandable capacity of 30 rooms which we started within one n one year in 2011.’ Beyond has 32 rooms-those facing vineyard and the pool have a fabulous view.
He left Sula as its Vice President after being a General Manager and Rajeev’s right hand man for a number of years. He was one of the oldest employees of Sula and as a local man had plenty of clout, besides having vineyards and farm land. It was generally known that the Beyond property belonged to him and he had leased it to Sula for mutual benefit- a fact never countered by Samant.
During the last couple of years when he was developing the infrastructure which includes multi-room villas with swimming pool, winery, conference rooms, wedding area, he used to tell me his grandiose plans that included the Beyond. But he never asserted that he owned the Brand which has become popular nationally as well internationally and is very popular among wine lovers and others who want to spend a weekend in solitude and in the arms of nature. When I took members of the Delhi Wine Club twice to Nashik to visit wineries and SulaFest, all the members wanted to return the following years-but with reservations at Beyond. But that was not possible for love or for money!
Last month when he told me he owned the label Beyond (TM), I just didn’t believe it. Short of asking him to show me the Agreement and the Trade mark registration I asked him how a shrewd businessman like Rajeev make such a mistake! The naughty smile on his face told me everything-followed by ‘sometimes big people can make small mistakes!’
Rajeev does not like to divulge the circumstances under which he agreed to lease the place but he is not overly stressed about the aberration that the break may cause him (and the loss of business to Sula because Beyond will continue to do good business because of the tremendous goodwill). He says, ‘the good news is that we already have a super new resort coming up further along the same road, and groundbreaking should happen soon.. There is definitely room for more resorts to come up in the area as you’re aware that weekends are totally full, not a room to be had, while weekdays are also getting more and more full. The beauty of the area around Sula continues to be maintained and it will continue to be a big draw for visitors from Mumbai and other cities and even overseas.’
‘Beyond Vineyard Resort @SOMA vine village will be a perfect model of wine tourism and best place for wedding destination’, says Pradeep who has already seen 6 weddings organised at his existing infrastructure which he had initially developed as an auxiliary to Beyond and piggy-back on its popularity. He adds, ‘Beyond Vineyard Resort is TM by Soma and I am thankful to Rajeev for taking the property to a level it is at right now. We will continue the trend from 01 July 2016 and take it forward to next level. Our new Restaurant Sufiaana and Sensation vine lounge with lap pool will be in full operation with multi cuisine and continental food respectively and will supplement our complete wine tourism offering.’ He plans to add adventure sports and boating as a part of recreation and already has some infrastructure ready.
Pachpatil modelled his winery on wine tourism from day one- to help him promote wine tourism unlike others who use wine tourism to promote wine. He loathes Mumbai retailers who he feels, have formed a clique to suck blood out of small wine producers. He plans to sell his wines at his winery only; he seems to have also added a few accessories for added revenues within his reception center for tasting. ‘During last year more than 10,000 visitors visited Soma tasting room and stayed with us in our villas and service apartment in the city.’ This compares favourably with the first year figures of Sula or even the current footfall at the York winery which is located is between Sula and ‘Beyond’ and has had the Tasting Room for a decade along with a restaurant now as well.
With very low-priced tasting at Rs. 200 for 5 wines and Rs 300 for 6 wine and tasting form 11 am till 11 pm. he asserts that Soma will be a unique model of wine tourism in India. With a tie-up with a local event company specialising in weddings he hopes to access clients from Pan India and with Beyond in his stable, he is flying high, way beyond his earlier vocation- of making wine.