Team Gingerclaps contacted me a few days ago about my availability through mid-February, 2014 for a tour to the Four Seasons vineyards in Baramati, near Pune. After a good deal of confusion over date, time and flight availability, a last-moment decision on my part saw me on a flight to Pune with fellow bloggers from Kolkata. I was excited especially because this was my first trip with D and S, who have, over the course of last year, become good friends and confidantes. We boarded around 6.30 pm, with torrential rain pouring down in the city, and encountered a few air pockets and bouts of turbulence in the way. However, 9.30 pm in the night, we were all safely in Pune and waiting for the cars to take us to Baramati.
|D and S.|
We were famished, the three of us. The driver of our car was persuaded (with batting eyelashes and pleading faces) to stop at Radisson Blu on our way out of Pune, where we picked up sandwiches (since we had been warned that there would be not much available food wise by the time we reached Baramati, around 11.30 pm, and we were not going to move a muscle without eating). After the 20-minute detour, we resumed our journey. Through winding ways and the aid of only the headlights of our car, we traveled through the dark spaces, and reached destination at nearly 12.30 am. I was bushed – so was my compadres, so we quickly checked in, and were greeted by a smiling man, who briefly introduced himself as A, and gave us the keys to our rooms. I got a room close to S, but D was all the way down the other direction. My room was called Barossa Valley, a wine making region in Australia, and S probably got Bordeux.
Inside every room was a picture which described the wine-making region the room was named after. I quickly did a survey of the room, noting the clean bed, the large television set, the side table laden with a water heater, tea and coffee bags, bags of milk powder and sugar, and a chocolate.
The bathroom was clean and while not too large, neat. A pair of slippers remained outside the room, and inside there were toiletries from Biotique. I saw a face wash, shampoo, soap, and a moisturizer. There was also a tooth brush, tooth paste, and a small pack of Parachute Hair Oil among them. I made use of the facilities, and tucked myself in.
Next morning, I woke up around 7.00 am with a severe bout of back pain. After ingesting a couple of pain killers and curling up into an inanimate object for some time, I roused myself, and dressed. Breakfast was waiting, and both D and S were awake already. At the table, I met them and other bloggers, including SnB, SD, AB and DS and sat down for an excellent repast that contained, among other things, custard-encrusted danishes, muffins, crunchy cornflakes, and toasts of whole-wheat and white bread. I was asked if I wanted something hot, and I decided on the mushroom and cheese omelette, and declined the idlis and vadas everyone else was busily consuming (and claiming to be excellent). Instead, I poured myself some freshly squeezed chilled Orange juice.
Now came the time to actually look around. We rested by the poolside for a while before heading over to our rooms.
I was stunned by the sheer size of the place where we were staying. Built in the style of a Mediterranean Château, the place where we were staying was fully functional as a winery as well as a hotel, complete with a pool, a cellar, and a wine-making facility. We were taken through the wine-making procedure by the General Manager, Mr. Balakrishna Kambhampati and a few other members of the facility joined us, namely, Mr. Raghu and Mr. Adtnu Tiwari.
|The fabulous Grape Juice.|
We were given samples of the grapes used for wine-making and also the juice of the grapes. The grapes are totally different from what you would see in the market – they are smaller, more closely clustered, and very sweet. We went inside the lab to see the way the makers checked for the sweetness, and saw the process of wine-making after the harvest was over. It started with sorting and crushing the grapes to release the juices (which was amazing – possibly the best grape juice I have had till date!).
We moved over from one section to another, sampled wines in different stages, and also, took what seemed like a million photos in between. Soon, exhausted from all the action, we retired to the dining room where Chef Hitesh Gautam from Hyatt Bangalore greeted us warmly and we sat down for the wine-soaked lunch. The menu, created especially to go with the wines, was exceptional.
|Amuse Bouche: Matthi with a Twist.|
The Amuse Bouche was served with the Four Seasons Chenin Blanc, a light white with a strong nose of fruits and a mild aftertaste. It was fresh and opened me up for more.
|First Course: Herbed Chicken Tikka with Pineapple Shot|
For our first course, perfectly seasoned herb-grilled chicken was served with a shot of spicy pineapple juice to cleanse the palate. It went well with the Blush wine which had a lovely floral and fruity nose, and a tendency to be very sweet on my tongue.
|Main: Duo of Salmon and Prawns with Saffron Cream Sauce|
As we were dining, bloggers from Bangalore joined us. Chef had kept in mind that we were from Bengal, and he proceeded towards seafood, with a gorgeous and buttery salmon on top of a mound of upma on one side, and spicy prawns on the other side of our plate. We drank the gorgeous Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with it, and the rich red wine with its bold flavors paired well with the spicy shrimps. I did have some reservations about it going with the salmon.The wine was from their “Ritu” range, which is exported to UK and other parts of the world, and it is not retailed in India.
|Baked Yogurt (left) and Lauki ka Kheer topped with a Gulab Jamun (right)|
The dessert came to us in a pristine platter of white. The lauki ka Kheer was light and mild, and paired with it was the Chenin Blanc Late Harvest, a sweet white which had high sugar content, and was not available in the market since only a few barrels had been made of it. It was a gorgeous dessert wine, and I wish I had a few bottles of it with me in times of need.
Post lunch, we decided to rest, before the day moved into the night. Of course, there were photo sessions, and we indulged in activities of our choice – taking photographs, lazing by the pool, looking at the beautifully illustrated pictures related to wine-making in the cellar. As evening fell, we dressed for dinner.
|Mr. B posing for me. Look, that rhymes!|
Our gracious host opened a bottle of sparkling wine, and we drank to his health and ours, with the light snack served to us. Crisp tart shells filled with chicken, biscuits, and cups of coffee and tea were also on offer, but we proceeded to drink the beautiful and crisp wine, draining the glasses rapidly as the evening progressed.
For a while I went downstairs with D and S, and then moved to the poolside where a barbecue was being set up for us.
|Top Left – the cheese platter, Bottom left – barbecue fire, bottom center – my plate, bottom right- the fruits, top right – musicians and my table.|
We were seated, chatting amiably about so many different topics (90s Indipop, can you believe it!) while Chef Hitesh set up the barbecue for us. Lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables were going to be grilled, and a table was set up with cheeses. I fell in love with the creamy Brie, smeared generously on a piece of Lavash bread, and my weakness for the rich Cheddar rivaled with the juicy, tart strawberries and the ripe figs. On my request, Chef Hitesh grilled a fig on the barbecue for me, and more sparkling wine was poured. Soon, bites of chicken, lamb, fish and vegetables started to make rounds, and we sat down on the elaborate table, our conversation hushing up suddenly as the haunting notes of a cello started off. Mumbai-based players, Mynah and Jake, gave a beautiful, albeit short, performance, for us.
With our meal, more bottles of the excellent Viognier and Barrique Reserve were opened. These bottles were the ones which are exported under the Ritu Banner. We were cheerful and conversation flowed, till we remembered that some of us had to leave early next morning.
I woke up around 7 am next morning and promptly set out for a brisk walk. A few hundred meters down the road, I met M, SJ and R. We started walking aimlessly down the road, stopping to take pictures of the grapes hanging on the vines.
We stopped and took pictures of us. We smiled and discussed everything. We were being absurd because it was what we were happy doing.
And there were rocks. When we broke one of these, it turned out to be crystalline inside. Very Volcanic, R deduced.
Of course, at one point of time, I fell down an incline, and SJ immediately enshrined the location by setting up two stones at the Place where Poorna Fell. Thankfully, none of them were fast enough to take a picture of that fall. Or were they? I might never know (until that photo surfaces!).
Very funny, SJ. Very Very Funny. And he had this charming habit of having a deadpan facial expression while saying the most outrageously funny things.
|Caesar and Lucy.|
And we then trudged back to the casa for breakfast. A was waiting for us, and we had hot, strong tea, followed by a light breakfast comprising of croissants, chocolate cereal, masala scrambled eggs, and orange juice.
Lunch was yet another elaborate affair. This time, the Chef had excelled himself. I was anticipating a great meal, and I got more than I bargained for, I daresay.
|Amuse Bouche – Banana Fritter|
We started off with a banana fritter – a slice of raw banana battered and deep fried. It was topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and the lovely Chenin Blanc.
|Look at R!|
The blush wine was poured, and the first course came in. Chef Hitesh explained that the blush wine was a perfect accompaniment to the Bekti he had decided to grill. He warned me that the Bekti would be fishier in smell and taste than what I was used to, and he was right. However, the green apple shot that went with it, and the generous dose of blush wine helped clean up my palette considerably.
|Grilled Kolkata Bekti. Apple Shooter.|
The Barrique Reserve Cabernet Shiraz was poured, and a glorious dish of Coorgi Chicken came in as our mains. A small bundle lay behind the chicken. I poked it with my fork, and it turned out to be a tiny, but incredibly tasty dosa, contrasting sharply with the sour and hot notes of the chicken. A bowl of gravy was laid on the side for whoever wanted more.
|Chicken Chettinad. Stir-fried Vegetables. Masala Dosa.|
At this point, we were getting slightly late, so a bottle of the late harvest sweet white wine was opened up to precede our dessert. Chef did not disappoint us once again. To go with the beautiful sweet wine, he served up a dish of caramelized fig, topped with a gulab jamun on one side, and a pineapple and green apple jalebi on the other side, the Chef’s imaginative take on the Indian favorite imaginative and decadent.
|Caramelized Fig. Pineapple and Green Apple jalebi.|
As our time for departure became imminent, I went back to my room, took one look around, and walked out to the car which was waiting for us. Of course, no such trip is complete without one misadventure. In this case, sadly, it was I who was the cause of drama. I somehow misread the timings on the plane ticket wrong, and realized it only too late that I was LATE. A breathless drive later (Many Thanks to our driver K and the encouraging A who was actually a pillar of support and was extremely positive and nice, even though it messed up his schedule), I reached the airport in the nick of time.
|A. With his glass of late harvest.|
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited to the Four Seasons Vineyards Tour courtesy Team Gingerclaps.