The French Connect
Modified On Dec 17, 2012 01:31 PM By Rahul
French wood is used to make one of the finest wine barrels. Hence, wine makers from across the globe import these barrels to ferment the best wines— so do our desi wine makers. Similar is the case with the car here in talk, the Renault Duster. The French automaker picked up one of its compact SUV products from the Dacia brand, Indian-ised it to make it favourable amongst the audience. Now the Duster gets a lot more chrome on its front grille and even the power window switches have been relocated to the door than the centre console. The European design is a tad bland and doesn’t pair the Indian consumer’s taste, just like the Logan. So, we take the French auto giant built compact SUV to visit a friend at the York Winery in Nashik.
The Duster looks very muscular with its bulging haunch and the roof-rails, which makes it look voguish. Except for some plastic bits, most of the things in the car are acceptable and it makes a good proposition for those who cannot decide between a sedan and a SUV.
We began our journey early in the morning from Mumbai, when the hour needle on my watch was just shy of 8. This was my first trip to Nashik, ever since the new highway was constructed. I did have faint memories of the single lane road, with the dreadful Kasara ghat and ofcourse then it was all country road-like. Nashik back then was a minimum of five to six hours away.
After crossing Thane, we headed towards Bhiwandi. We cruised in the tall sixth gear, which made the oil burner highly efficient. At about 100-120km/hr the engine was spinning at 1800rpm, which is indeed remarkable! Not only driving was a breeze, but the Duster never felt mammoth-like to drive, as most of the SUVs do. It was even pouring at certain times, but all rain could do was dirty the compact SUV from the outside. Duster felt confident and soldiered on throughout despite of the heavy showers. Even at speeds in excess of 120km/hr it didn’t feel shaky, bouncy or show any signs of nervousness.
The S and the Z bends on the Kasara were well taken by the Duster. To our dismay, the steering wheel left a bit too slack to enjoy on these winding roads and it always required some correction. Also, the long travel of the suspension made it bend a tad more than one would want it to. But it is this long travel suspension that improved the riding characteristics of the Duster.
Soon, the two-lane road got an extra lane added as we inched towards Nashik. The roads were arrow straight and the tarmac was smooth. And as we turned left after the Nashik octroi, we were back on country roads that were badly surface and soon they turned into potholed thoroughfares. Momentarily, we reached the crowded village lanes and soon the road become narrow enough for just one car to go at a time. The small turning radius made it easy for us to drive even through these narrow rural lanes, thanks to the guidance of Google Maps as it took us through the shortest possible road. Apparently, my iPhone didn’t have Google Maps anymore and it was difficult to find a route to Nashik on Apple Maps, so finding something in rural India was a joke. Hence, to avoid the disappointment, Google Maps on Ravi’s Blackberry was our only hope.
The ride suppleness is tremendous, not just on broken tarmac but also when we drove over rough and uneven terrains. The high ground clearance of the Duster also makes it a capable off-roader, wish it also came with a four-wheel drive option. Surely, it will need a bigger engine then.
After driving for almost three hours, we made it to York Winery that is located on the outskirts of Nashik. The drive stressed neither the driver nor the co-driver. The comfort of the seats was decent, however we would have liked a bit more support for the back.
Speaking of the location, it was beautiful as there were only lush green grass all around. There were a few vineyards and also lake in the vicinity. Covered under the clear blue sky, the grape plants were maturing to grow the grape fruit that will be fully grown by February. The York Winery has its own vineyard and next to the vineyard is the building where the grapes are crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Only red wines are aged in French and American barrels. Whites are stored in tanks. After some months, these juices are then bottled and disturbed to the wine shops across the country. If you wish to visit this place, then the ideal time will be in February— during the York Live music festival. Also, the winery has wine tasting sessions and one can fix up a time and date with a minimum number of people.
As I had to drive back, I decided to stay away from these tempting wines. But, next time I will make sure to have someone with me who will drive me back so I can also taste most of the wines. This can be a sophisticated getaway from many wine-loving Mumbaikars.