Experience India Taste Virginia

By Posted on Nov 21 2009 | By

It all started in a humble home in rural India over forty years ago.

And today, the fruit of a life’s work is literally growing in a meticulously cared for vineyard in the heart of Rappahannock County. The American dream lives.

NarmadaOn Labor Day Weekend 2009, one of the newest wineries in the Old Dominion—Narmada Winery—opened its doors. Actually, it opened its lakeside cabana while the finishing touches were made to its tasting room. The state of the art 8,000 square foot wine cellar and tasting bar began serving the public in late November.

The fifty-one acre estate, with fifteen acres planted in hybrids and vitis vinifera grapes, is a dream in progress for Sudha and Pandit Patil. The professional couple will ultimately transition their current careers into full time wine proprietors somewhere down the road. But for now, juggling the demands of a new winery while leading active business lives precludes the idea of the traditional golden years retirement. There’s more to be accomplished.

The Patil’s story is emblematic of what a belief in education and a commitment to achievement can produce.

When Pandit was a seventeen-year-old graduate from high school, the Dean of the University of New Mexico was serendipitously traveling through his village in India. It was brought to the educator’s attention that an exceptionally bright lad was considering a career in engineering, at the behest of his father. An invitation was extended to visit with the boy’s family.

Pandit vividly recalls preparing for the important guest’s arrival. “We had no chairs in our home, only an adobe floor, and did not want this important man from America to sit on the hard surface. So we cast about the village and borrowed enough chairs to host the Dean in a more formal manner.” The visit went well and the young student was invited to apply for a scholarship at the university. Nine months later he received a National Science Foundation full scholarship in mechanical engineering.

“It was wonderful news,” Pandit recalls. “But, unfortunately, it did not include the $430 airfare. That was a lot of money for a poor family in India.” Pandit’s mother, Narmada, gathered up her life’s accumulation of jewelry and told her husband, “Here, pawn these, so my son can go to the university.” Years later, a successful and grateful son bought his mother all new jewelry during one of her visits to the states. He also named his winery after her and titled his first bottling of wine Mom.
After graduating from New Mexico State, Pandit received another full scholarship for a master’s degree from Carnegie Institute and a Ph. D. from the University of Pittsburgh. In four and a half years, by dint of attending classes’ year around, the young student had earned a stellar education. Today, he is Program Director at Argonne National Laboratory.

Shortly after his educational success, his mother began writing him a standard letter with the theme, “Enough education. Come home.” Mom wanted her son to marry and begin his life. Pandit agreed to return to India. “Normally, the courting process in India involves evaluating several girls and deciding which one is best. In my case, the first young lady I began seeing was seventeen-year-old Sudha and I looked no further. It was the best decision of my life. She is a jewel,” he states lovingly.

Sudha and Pandit Patil

Sudha and Pandit Patil

Sudha soon shared her own dream with Pandit of becoming a dentist, and the young married couple returned to America. Within a few years, Sudha had graduated from Georgetown School of Dentistry and then the University of Maryland, earning a master’s degree and Certificate in Endodontics (root canal specialty). She opened a practice in McLean, Virginia and for twenty-four years served the dental needs of a clientele that included high-ranking government and private sector leaders. Today, her practice is in Culpeper to be closer to the winery and reduce her commute time.

This wine loving couple has two children with successful careers of their own. Their son, Dr. Susheel Patil, is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and practices pulmonary medicine and critical care. He conducts research in sleep apnea. Their daughter, Mrs. Prema Patil Sharma, holds a degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech and is a program manager at a major biotech company.

The Patil’s purchased their property in 1999 and planted their vineyard and a cherry tree orchard a few years later. In addition to grape wine, plans are to produce a cherry dessert wine when the trees mature. The tasting room has an expansive, wraparound deck that overlooks the vineyard and a lake; wine and scenery are brought together to assure guests a relaxing environment. Their private residence sits on a gentle ridge at the back of the property with a sweeping view of the entire landscape.

View from the Narmada Deck

View from the Narmada Deck

Dick Manuel, an architectural design professional who resides in Rappahannock County, designed all of the buildings on the site. “Dick has done a great job creating a harmonious feel to the property, both structures and landscape,” states Pandit. The view from the deck attests to his skills.

Sudha and Pandit want to embrace the best of Virginia wine country while simultaneously linking it with their Indian heritage. Their marketing motto is: Experience India…Taste Virginia. The tasting room will feature a range of hors d’ oeuvres, including Indian cuisine, paired with their wines. For example, the off-dry, crisp and clean ’08 Mom Chardonel goes nicely with spice influenced Indian fare. A gift shop is also incorporated into the tasting room, featuring clothing and jewelry from India and other regions. A stage will accommodate a range of musical groups that will perform throughout the year. Along with Indian articles, they plan to carry items crafted by local talents.

Sudha, with a degree in chemistry, is a burgeoning winemaker herself; she made wines with their estate grapes during 2008 at Barrel Oak Winery with the help of Tom Payette, a wine consultant. Recently they hired Rob Cox, an experienced professional who worked at La Grange Winery before embracing the opportunity at Namada. His wines include Vidal Blanc, Chardonel, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Chamboucin, Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Current production is 1,700 cases annually with an ultimate goal of 5,000 cases. Sudha works closely with Rob in the production of their commercial bottlings.

Star of India

Star of India

Narmada Winery is a unique addition to the Virginia wine scene. The winery reflects what can be accomplished when talent and industry converge. Moreover, it showcases a heritage known for its beauty and artisan skills. America’s strength lies in its cultural diversity and now Virginia wine lovers have been given with their own Star of India…a wine sapphire extraordinaire.

Published in the 2009 Winter edition of The Virginia  Wine Gazette.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES