8th Aug, 2013:
When Akshat Kumar, a digital marketing professional from Bangalore took a basic workshop in wine tasting organised by the Wine Society of India a few years ago, he felt there was more than just a swig to be discovered about the flavourful, aromatic drink. His desire to 'experience' wine-drinking was fulfilled only last year when he took the Tuscany tour in Italy and tasted the Chianti-region wines. That experience, he shares, was truly incredible.
"The wine-tasting happened in a small restaurant attached to the vineyard. The owner took us through the history of making wines in the Chianti region and how it all flourished. We tasted both red and white wines that were as old as 10 years along with some excellent home-grown Italian salads and organic pasta, also made in the same farm that added to the flavour of the wine. The history of the region was overwhelming and so was the experience!" shares Akshat, clearly underlining the fact that as compared to the West, the concept of wine tasting tours in India is still at a nascent stage.
Of course, there are reasons galore. Pradeep Gidwani, coach and co-founder of The Pint Room explains, "The government's lop sided policy to promote liquor on the basis of taxation litres and not alcohol strength is one of the primary reasons why wine does not feature as casually on Indian dining tables as other alcoholic beverages like beer, whiskey, vodka or rum. Another reason is that other liquors promise you a kick at a much lesser price. And then, the number of people picking up a wine bottle from duty-free shops is miniscule as compared to the sales of high-on-demand brands like Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie."
Nevertheless, there is a fragment of people open to discovering wines within India. For Amit Panhale, a marketing professional from Mumbai, who visited the Sula vineyard in Nashik with a friend last year, the experience was educational. "We were shown around the farm where grapes were cultivated and taken to the place where wine is kept for fermentation. We learned how different kinds of woods affect the taste of the wine, how red, white or sparkling wine is made, and that January to February is the grape harvesting and crushing season. We tasted several wines and became aware of the various properties that distinguish wines from each other", says he.
Education indeed seems to be the answer that may change and convert India into a wine drinking culture. A winery open to public is common in all wine producing countries as it helps educate the consumers and brings them closer to the brand. In India, Sula vineyards were the first wine producers to open a tasting room back in 2005. According to Cecilia Oldne, their global brand ambassador & head-international business, more and more Indians are aspiring to adopt the western lifestyle, which is not limited to just drinking the wine but also discovering the nuances of the drink. She sees no disparity when it comes to gauging the mindset of Indians on taking wine tasting tours as a holiday experience. "The beautiful vineyards in Nashik are the perfect getaway for the stressed city folks. We have also become a popular wedding destination because our hospitality goes beyond tasting wines. This year we're expecting 1, 60, 000 visitors at Sula!" says Cecilia.
True that Indians are not typically wine connoisseurs and the number of people who know their wine is only handful. So to convince such minds to experiment with a holiday that comprises 'wine-tasting' is not as easy as ABC. Kapil Sekhri, Managing Director Fratelli wines agrees, "The idea of wine tasting tours as a pure holiday option has yet to become mainstream, which is why we try and make our vineyard tour one of a kind experience. Besides tasting and learning about wines, we couple the tour with several R&R facilities such as a game of snooker, an open air barbecue, or simply cycling around the lush vineyards."
Both Sula and Fratelli have adopted non-traditional means of promotion - from social media to public relations and word of mouth of course. But both have their respective strategies to ensure customers remain loyal. Sula has its membership programme called Club Sula that entitles members to avail special discounts but their real highlight is Sulafest, the annual music festival, which is a huge hit among all. "At Sulafest 2013, we conducted 700 tours and tastings", informs Cecilia. Fratelli wineries, on the other hand, have occasion led holiday packages on offer. Wine educator Sonal Holland, founder and CEO of Sonal Holland Wine Academy, swears by their state-of-the-art wine-making facilities and the underground cellar where one can taste the barrel aged wines. "The lunch organised atop the Garwad hills that overlook the vineyards was a special experience. Later in the evening, we were treated to traditional Maharashtrian cultural entertainment", she shares.
Yet another attempt to educate Indians about the basics of wines was the launch of Indian Wine List (IWL), a mobile application co-owned by photographer-cum-wine connoisseur Aneesh Bhasin and Shiladitya Mukhopadhyaya. Aneesh, who has been to wine tours all over the world, started this venture with his partner to build a consumer platform for wines in India. "It is not difficult to make people understand and like one. The issue is that most of them might have had bad wine experiences. But the standard of our food and beverage is improving and a lot of young people are taking to wine", he says. The IWL app details almost everything that you need to know about wines - an extravagant wine catalogue sorted by winery, grape and occasion and a comprehensive list of wine and food pairing, complete with tasting notes. It is free and currently downloadable across iOS and Android, though Blackberry and Windows will have their versions soon.
In India, a glass of wine is still an elite drink to be sipped stylishly in special, social gatherings. It is a celebratory drink associated occasions and that too among the upper-middle class city folks "Our initial focus was to educate the urban population in Tier 1 cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. Now, however, we are expanding our base in other cities. We have wine brands in out portfolio targeting different demographics and consumers", says Cecilia adding, "the main driver for this growth is the quantum shift of women seen enjoying alcohol. And since wines are a healthier option, there will be a leap in demographics in future." To this, Sonal agrees, "The middle class segment is constantly seeking good weekend options and if wine companies target this segment effectively, this market has huge potential", she signs off.
Indian vineyards and wineries
Sula Vineyards (Outskirts of Nashik, Maharashtra)
Fratelli Wineries (Solapur district, Pune)
York Winery (Twenty minutes from Nashik city)
Vallone Vineyards - India's premier boutique winery (Nashik)
Chateau Indage (Outskirts of Narayangaon, Pune)
Grover Vineyards (Nandi Hills, Bangalore)
Zampa Vineyards (Nashik, Maharashtra)
Chateau D'Ori (Nashik-Dindori Road, Maharashtra)
Four Seasons Winery and Vineyards (Rotti, in the Baramati district of Pune)
Most popular wines of Indian-make
Sonal Holland says, "Sula is the most widely distributed wine brand in India. Sula Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc and the Sula Satori Merlot are most commonly consumed by wine drinkers at big banquet events. However, Grover's La Reserve red wine is popularly termed as India's finest red wine by a lot of wine enthusiasts. Fratelli Sette and Reveilo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve are both vying for this slot. In the sparkling wine space, both Sula and Zampa Brut are quite widely consumed."