Visiting my mum

For those who follow her progress, I can report that my mum seems to be well and thriving in her home in India. Although I had to explain who I was the first time we went to see her yesterday, she’s recognised me each time subsequently. I don’t think one could say that for Winky, though, but perhaps my cousin does not have such a distinct imprint on what’s left of my mum’s fragile memory.

This is how we communicate with my mum, who no longer wants to wear her hearing aids:

We take a pad and write simple sentences in English. Nothing too long-winded or complex: no dependent clauses. She can then read them and respond. Whenever she repeats the question we can point to interactions from previous pages. Of course this communication method is only going to last as long as she can read English. I suppose the next step is sign language or simply being present with nice open, empathetic face or to sit and hold her hand, though she’s never been keen on any sort of physical contact.
Luckily I am finally managing to practise my singing. It’s and a half weeks, now, to my diploma exam and, not gonna lie, I’m fretting about it. I started practising as soon as we arrived her yesterday and, half way through Le Manoir de Rosemonde, I received a phone call from reception asking me very politely to please turn the volume of the TV or music down. I suppose that’s quite flattering in a way. Today I went to practise in the gym, which is otherwise only rarely used, I’d guess.

I’m unaccountably sleepy this evening so I’ll post this post and wish you goodnight.

A tour of the Sula Winery

Nashik has become the home of Indian wine, and Sula is its most famous and high-end brand. It’s intrigued me since I first tasted a glass of unexpectedly bone dry Sula Sauvignon last year that it is produced so near to the marital home of my (now late) Aunt. When my cousin Winky asked to come and visit India and my mum, that she is so immersed in the world of wine through her vintner husband (I’m sorry. That makes her sound like a chicken casserole) seemed like an opportunity to embrace.

Today, then, we visited the Sula winery for a tour and tasting. Set up by an Indian graduate of Stanford University, it’s run along Californian winery lines.

You’ve got to admire the long term planning and marketing strategy and tactics of the Sula brand:

  • Take advantage of the rising numbers of possibly overseas-educated, well-travelled, middle class young people with relatively high incomes and increasingly cosmopolitan and international focus.
  • Build a trendy brand image for a product almost unknown in India.
  • Capitalise the taboo around alcohol, especially for women drinkers, and exploit the latent, yet hugely controlled, aspirational rebellion of these young people with high disposable incomes. You’re selling them a lifestyle product of which their parents disapprove with the help of modern, fresh branding.
  • Run gigs for rising music artists that attract said rich, rebellious young people.
  • Import a French chef and expose these people to modern European food in both a full restaurant setting and a wine bar on a balcony overlooking a vineyard. Here you can have cheese on toast with an Asian twist or properly-cooked European food.
  • Set your price point at an aspirational premium level, yet make it (just about) affordable for those who want to buy into this premium lifestyle.
  • Build boutique accommodation that can be accessed only by the select few. (It’s booked for months, years to come.)
  • Provide a boutique health spa for beauty treatments using by-products of said winery such as its grapeseed oil in your pampering products.
  • Educate the market on the health benefits of wine…
  • Sell witty, branded merchandise only available from the winery.
  • Gradually educate the Indian palate away from sugary, syrupy wines and towards a more sophisticated and mature Western wine palate.
  • Export your Western-style wines to Europe. Enter competitions and win favourable mentions in the western wine press that you can use for your promotion in the home market.
  • Then, when the Indian palate matures to accept dryer wines, and you’re the leading aspirational provider, clean up.


Well thought through.

You can already buy Sula Sauvignon in Marks and Spencer in the UK. I think it’s reassuringly expensive and not promoted as a cheap New World wine. It’s probably not the best white wine you’ve ever tasted but, for India, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Ûbercool in Nashik


I woke up in the middle of the night panicking about my singing diploma and its proximity in the middle of the night. Dan, if you’re reading this please get in touch on the number I gave you. Also that, having set up Winky’s blog for her, I was the sole Administrator and she could not access it. Having spent the morning driving here to Nashik, we spent the afternoon remedying that and redoing her WordPress blog several times because of the intermittent wifi and the limitations of the app on an iPad. It made me thankful for my laptop.

Interesting facts about Nashik:

  1. Nashik is the 16th fastest growing city in the world with a population of about 1.5million.
  2. The sex ratio for children is  865 girls per 1,000 boys.
  3. On the Godavari River, Nashik is one of four cities that hosts the great gathering of Kumbh Mela every 12 years. If you’ve read Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, you’ll recognise this from there. Wikipedia goes on to say that visitor numbers for the Kumbh Mela are estimated at around 100 million but I find this figure rather dubious.
  4. Famous people born in Nashik include revolutionaries, freedom fighters and creative icons. Here, you can read all about Nashik yourself.

Why are we here? Mainly because it is the home of the Sula Vineyard, which makes eminently drinkable wines. I was taken by suprise by a Sula Sauvignon last year and was keen to find out more about wine growing in Maharashtra. My cousin’s husband is an eminent vintner so she’s most curious too. Sula is home to a boutique spa hotel which is, unfortunately, permanently booked and therefore unavailable to the likes of us.

We went for a wine tasting tour this evening to be told that we’d just missed the last tasting. We’ll go again tomorrow but in the meantime sampled a glass of rather desultory fizz that didn’t. Perhaps it had been open a while. We had dinner in a deserted restaurant. My exquisite prawn ravioli in curry jus starter was followed by an overly large and therefore guilt-inducingly unfinishable  risotto, which spoiled the effect a little.

Sula is a hip place, hosting regular cool music happenings including the annual  SulaFest . Its distinct clientele tribe of rich, middle class trendies stands out completely from the rest of India and would probably be unrecognisable to most Indians outside the big cities.

We’re also here because we have rellies just up the road though, at this juncture, it looks like we’re going to find it difficult to hook up in the time we have allocated to us before going off to see my mum tomorrow.


Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin


Illicit photo


A quick post, then, before I turn into a pumpkina.

We spent this evening at one of my favourite places in the world, Ronnie Scott’s. There is nothing as invigorating as live music, for me, and being present at live jazz is like opening up the bifold doors of my mind and letting the chained up dogs of my soul run free in the garden of imagination. Or something.

I went for Dave Grusin but soon realised that, being all of 81 years old, he had more or less tagged along with Lee  Ritenour the guitarist of whom, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never heard before. So what I thought would be an evening of intimate wistful piano turned out to be an evening of funk. Not my normal genre bestie but I found myself getting on down with the best of them. Particularly spectacular on the kit was Ron Bruner Jr. Absolutely phenomenal, he was and, if I’m honest, he was the backbone of the show.

Ronnie Scott’s is also the only venue I’ve come across where there’s a queue for the men’s and not the ladies’ loo!

A night out on the South Bank

We all love the Skylon Restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall building. A buzzy bar at one end and a quieter restaurant at the other, one whole wall facing the Thames is taken up by huge picture windows offering a spectacular view that changes with the seasons.

The food is pretty good too and the service, which is vaguely reminiscent of an early 60s vibe in terms of appearance but with modern informality is knowledgeable and friendly. It’s expensive enough to be considered a special night out but, for good food in London, fairly reasonable nonetheless.

Tonight we went for a belated celebration of John’s birthday. Here are the pictures:


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