Three pairs of brothers, a zealous Italian viticulturist and an inhospitable landscape were involved in the creation of new Indian wine label, Fratelli.
A pair of modern glass buildings comes into view after a six-hour drive from Mumbai to Akluj, an agrarian town in Maharashtra’s Solapur district. The buildings, inspired by the Ferrari factory in northern Italy, stand out in Akluj where structures tend to be squat and ramshackle. Designed by Pune-based architect Sunil Patil, they contain the winery and the guesthouse of Fratelli Wines, which opened in October 2010. The guesthouse has four double-rooms and all the comforts of a luxury apartment including full-time waitstaff, a cook, a lounge area with a large TV screen and wi-fi. The Fratelli winery, which stands next to it, boasts a bottling plant with a capacity of 1,600 bottles per hour.
When we visited last weekend, we were told that these buildings stand in the same spot where Piero Masi, a renowned Tuscan winemaker and viticulturist, found himself surveying a vast, barren stretch of land in October 2006. Masi was brought there by the Florence-based Secci brothers, Andrea and Alessio, who were thinking of setting up a vineyard and winery in India in partnership with their long time, Delhi-based family friends, Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri. The Secci brothers were keen on India because they saw here the same potential witnessed in Italy in the ’70s, when private wine labels became the rage. They also thought it best to invest in a growing wine market than a saturated one. A fortnight after hearing their proposal, Masi took a leap of faith and flew to India, where he began a recce of possible locations for the vineyard that included Nashik, Latur and Solapur.
In October 2010, the Secci and Sekhri brothers and Masi launched Fratelli Wines in Mumbai, in partnership with a third pair of brothers, Arjunsinh and Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, who hail from Akluj. “In 2006, standing on that mountain in Akluj, Masi had said that we had a very tough job ahead of us,” recalled Alessio Secci, co-owner of Fratelli Wines. “Even today, people refer to us as the mad men who attempted this venture in the middle of nowhere.” Perhaps brave rather than mad is a more appropriate adjective. Akluj is 170 kms south of Pune and 280 kms away from Mumbai. The 240-acre Fratelli vineyard is located 20kms away from the main town, which places it smack in the middle of nowhere or what Kapil Sekhri likes to call “never never land”.
When they bought the land, there was no provision for electricity or water, but Masi was certain this had to be the site as he wanted to raise the vineyard on the mineral-rich soil found in Akluj and not on the organic soil abundant in Nashik because the former is better suited to grape cultivation. “We’ve always maintained that good wine is first grown in the vineyards and later processed in the winery,” said Alessio Secci, hinting at the common practice among Indian wine makers to outsource grape cultivation to local farmers.
In 2007, they began planting the vineyard, which involved grading the land to form gentle slopes with ideal lines of elevation, adding 800 tonnes of manure to plant the 13 varieties of wine saplings that they imported from a nursery in France, and vasts amounts of research to ensure that they harvested the saplings in perfect climatic conditions, which according to Masi, occur between January and February. Masi and Alessio Secci spent months educating local employees on the methods of cultivation. Alessio Secci visits the site once every month, while Masi, who lives in Florence, makes six trips in a year. “It’s not like we simply instruct them via emails,” said Alessio Secci. “While our staff are familiar with the procedures now, they need to work on developing their palates for wine.”
It’s currently pruning season and not the best time to visit the vineyard, as we found out last week, but the vineyard manager walked us through the technical aspects of grape cultivation and production regardless. The vineyard tour precedes an hour-long wine tasting session where guests get to taste Fratelli’s three labels from their first harvest last year; a dry, crisp Chenin Blanc, a fresh, lightly spiced Sauvignon Blanc and an elegant Cabernet Sauvignon, wines that received an average rating of 16 on 20 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine connoisseur and chairman of The Wine Society of India.
By Diwali this year, Fratelli Wines will have launched seven more labels, including a Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Sette, bringing their total to 10. While the stay package includes a tasting of all 10 labels, guests have to pay for every bottle or glass of wine consumed during the stay. But at between Rs495 and Rs650 per bottle, Fratelli’s wines are reasonably priced. “We stand firmly between an artisanal winery and a commercial one,” said Alessio Secci. “We want to make sure that there is wine on every table.”
Fratelli Wines are available across wine marts in Mumbai. Click here for locations. For home delivery, call Mithil Khanolkar on 4033 0044 or email email@example.com. To book a stay at the winery (starting at Rs35,000 for two people for two days), call Rajveer Bali on 98333 68727. Visit www.fratelliwines.in.Tags: Alessio Secci, Andrea Secci, Arjunsinh Mohite-Patil, Fratelli Wines, Gaurav Sekhri, Kapil Sekhri, Piero Masi, Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, Special Top Story