A story of fine craftsmanship - Driving the 2019 Toyota Yaris to Sula Vineyards
I had no knowledge about wine until I flew to France, wine country itself, and stayed there for almost a year. Marianne, my 70-year-old landlady deeply appreciated fine wine. It was in her company that I tasted my first wine. It was a 2014 Bordeaux Rouge which, to my uninitiated taste buds, tasted like herbal cough syrup. But there was no way I could escape the company of wine connoisseurs and I slowly got influenced by their styles. Right from appreciating the anatomy of a wine bottle and popping the cork in a sophisticated manner, to sniffing the wine and swirling it in the glass while holding it by the stem, I learnt it all. Was I also a wine-connoisseur then? Hell no, but the artful act of pretense was immense fun. After returning home a year later, I waxed eloquent to my peers about how the French sip their Burgundy and Rhone varieties and which hors d'oeuvres go well with a red or white.
But little did I know that India, too, is big on wine with as many as sixty wineries, and many of them nestled around the Maharashtrian countryside. It was kind of embarrassing. I had tasted my first wine after travelling 7000km across two continents, and all this time I didn’t know that India’s most well-known wine-producing region, Nashik, was in my own backyard. So, when I heard the 2019 Toyota Yaris was waiting for us to experience Nashik, I just had to set the navigation for the Sula vineyards, the country’s largest and most popular winery. The following morning, I headed out to Nashik with two contrasting personalities. Shutter-bug Sachin wouldn’t give a dime for a glass of wine, but filmmaker Aditya rather looked forward to tasting the local spirit. Good thing I wasn’t the only one.
We picked up the Yaris from the humungous Wasan Toyota dealership in Nashik, looking rather stylish in its dual tone white and black colour scheme. It was a 40-minute drive from the Toyota dealership to Sula vineyards and a large portion of the road was in a poor condition after the heavy monsoons. When the moon-like craters are filled with muddy rainwater, it’s hard to gauge their depth, making them unpredictable and scary. The Yaris, though, inspired a lot of confidence. Its high ground clearance and well-balanced suspension flattened out the road undulations and got us through to Sula without breaking a sweat. People are looking at SUVs right now more than they ever did in the past, thanks to their ability to glide over bad roads, but after driving the Yaris I was convinced about modern sedans that have been engineered for our conditions and can get you past roads that look like they’re meant to be tackled solely by SUVs.
As we entered Sula, we were graced by lush green vineyards on both sides, along with symmetrical plantations running along the smooth inner roads. This is the most famous place for wine tourism in India, and there were throngs of tourists strolling around. With its wine tasting tours, three fine dining restaurants, a wine shop, and two resorts, there are enough reasons for tourists to visit Sula. Good thing then, that we had the dual tone Yaris with us to flaunt and turn many heads – the blacked-out roof, wing mirrors and grille together with the new-design for the 15-inch alloys cutting a striking shape.
As we took a tour of the facility, the sommeliers showed us the process of vinification. There’s some high-tech machinery used to crush and de-stem tonnes of grape harvest, which is then put into fermentation tanks after filtration. The clarified wine then goes through an aging process (varies for types of wines) in huge barrels made of American or French wood.
This reminded me of what it takes to create a fine product. The Yaris, too, is a result of fine craftsmanship and some clever Japanese engineering that has been developed across two decades. The first Toyota Yaris was sold internationally in 1999, and what India gets today is its most modern avatar that retains its original qualities of being stylish, comfortable and well-engineered. It remains one of the nicer travel companions out there, being built on Toyota’s philosophy of quality, durability and reliability. It’s a sedan that you can bank on without thinking twice, and is one of the better equipped cars in its segment, packing a host of segment-first features like power adjustable driver seat, split rear seats, gesture control for infotainment, roof-mounted air vents and IR-cut acoustic and vibration control glass which improve NVH levels significantly.
We couldn’t stretch the Yaris’ legs on private property, so we headed out and drove around a wonderful riverside road. There’s the Gangapur dam built on the Godavari river, that offers splendid views in the monsoons with its swollen water levels in the foreground of a greener-than-ever landscape. The Yaris got there in a breeze, thanks to its peppy 1.5-litre petrol engine, which develops 105bhp and 140Nm of torque. You can barely hear the engine at idle and on the go too, it's very smooth, delivering power in a linear fashion. It provides an engaging drive, but on days when you’re not in the mood to get behind the ’wheel, you can simply hop into the rear seat, and get chauffeured around comfortably. The leatherette seats are plush and the rear legroom is ample, meaning you can stretch out and soak in the tranquility for as long as the drive lasts. I did that on our drive back to The Source at Sula, where we were staying for the night, and the Yaris’ cabin is indeed a relaxing place to be in.
It was dark by the time we returned but thankfully, the Yaris’ automatic projector headlamps throw a wide and long beam, one immensely reassuring aspect about the sedan is its safety kit. There’s everything you must have and then there’s some more. You get as many as seven airbags, ABS with EBD and BA (Brake Assist), front and rear parking sensors and disc brakes on all four wheels in the V variant that we drove. The top-of-the-line VX even gets a tyre pressure monitoring system, vehicle stability control that helps on slippery corners, and hill start assist that lets you start up the car on a slope without the fear of rolling back.
It was a long day and we were finally up for some wine tasting in the evening. No drinking and driving! As we were driving around all day, we didn’t attempt the tasting earlier. Safety should always be priority and we made sure that we sipped on the local produce only after our Yaris was safely parked away. At the Little Italy restaurant at Sula, we were advised to taste the red Dindori Reserve Shiraz and the sparkling Brut Tropicale. A sumptuous platter of cheddar and chevre was also served alongside, and all of it just reminded me of my time in France. In a stately manner, I opened the red, sniffed around its mouth, poured it without any dramatic staring and the very first sip reminded me of berries and vanilla. And there was no act of pretense this time. My time in France in the company of Marianne had taught me enough about wine and the time spent at Sula brought all those memories flooding back. In the end, I was convinced about two things – India, for sure, produces some fine wine, and the updated Yaris, like fine wine, has only gotten better.