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Indian Wines Sparkling on the Global Stage

Friday, February 9, 2018, 12:51 Hrs  [IST]

Over the past few years, wine consumption in India has been growing consistently with a double digit growth. What is even more interesting to note is that apart from the increase in consumption, the wine menus at the fine dines across the country have witnessed an increase in their collection dedicated to Indian labels. This is a definitive affirmation that home grown wines are fast catching up with imported labels both in terms of quality and popularity. Hospitality Biz captures the domestic wine industry sentiments.

What is better than ending a day with a fine glass of wine! In a country where traditionally whisky/lager had always been the choicest companion, it is interesting to see everyday thousands of people turning to the bottles of reds, whites and rosés. The way the country perceives and consumes wine is rapidly changing with more and more people acquiring the taste of this bitter sweet nectar.

The credit for this slow but steady transformation to a large extent goes to the domestic industry which assiduously invested in building the market by bringing in distinctive flavours, products, packages, etc. in sync with the international trends. The growing number of reports of Indian wine brands competing and winning awards at most coveted international tasting events is a testimony to this evolution.

“We have seen tremendous growth of the Indian wine market over the last decade. Not just in volumes but also in varietals, quality and customer base. We are now planting more grape varieties and the older vines are producing better grapes. From the earlier popular varietals like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, we are now seeing grapes like Viognier, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola and more. Techniques of making wine have evolved, allowing winemakers to make both approachable wine for newbie’s and complex ones for the more experienced drinker. Sparkling wines have grown too across categories from the methode champenoise style to prosecco styles and simple frizzante. I’m definitely looking forward to the next decade,” informs Shatbhi Basu, Ace Mixologist, Director at Creative Consultants & STIR Academy of Bartending.

Still at nascent stage the domestic industry has been growing at a robust pace of 15 to 20% over the decade. Talking about the growth & transformation of Indian wine industry, Vivek Chandramohan, COO, Grover Zampa Vineyards said, “The market is evolving as Indian consumers are getting more aware about wines day by day with an increasing interest in the category. The market for Indian wines has grown on an average of around 20% year for most of last decade. However, due to highway ban and demonetisation we saw a decline last year with a growth rate of 15%. Although the customer base is niche we expect more than 20% growth for many years to come.”

The consolidation in the number of players has helped in enhancing quality, feels Nikhil Agarwal, Sommelier & CEO, All Things Nice. “There has been a consolidation in the number of players in the Indian market. Quality has gotten better and wineries are producing more wines that are dryer in style than before. A lot of Indian labels are exported internationally and export numbers themselves are on the rise.”

Indian Wines v/s Foreign Wines
Comparing Indian wines with international wines will not be completely fair, as the Indian wine industry has emerged only in the last couple of decades, compared to international wines that have existed for centuries. It wasn’t till the late 1980s serious wine making begun in the country. However, it seems Indian wines are fast catching up and making their presence felt across the globe.

Standards are ever improving, and in some categories, would be hard to distinguish Indian wine from their international equivalents, observes Vikram Achanta, Co-founder and CEO of Tulleeho. However, maintaining consistency is a major challenge, he informs. “I think Indian wines still lack as far as consistency is concerned year to year. And for quality standards to be maintained by all wine makers, so that wine from India becomes a matter of pride, rather than a hit or a miss, depending on which winery has made it.”

“Indian wines have surely improved in quality with more experience in the field of viticulture and winemaking. But each country and region within countries as well offer different terroir which ultimately affects taste, colour and alcohol of wine and evaluating wine can be very subjective,” adds Chandramohan from Grover Zampa. “We have always upheld a single-minded commitment to quality above all. We work with limited yields, sustainable viticulture practices and selective hand harvesting (i.e. only the best grapes), all under the direction of world famous oenologist Michel Rolland and French winemaker Mathias Pellisard. Many wineries have won several accolades in international competition which proves that we have evolved.” Grover Zampa now exports to more than 20 countries and we have won 100 awards since 2013.

“I think the top wines from the top six to eight wineries in India produce wines that can beat international entry level and compete with mid-level wines from anywhere. Our Sauvignon Blancs can be super and I promise in a blind tasting with wines from anywhere in the world we would show fantastically,” states Agarwal.

Indian fine dine and Wine
Indians have always paired their food with lager traditionally. The food and drink pairing is intuitively sensible as the cold lager pairs well with the piping hot curries. However, the gastronomy experts, influencers and up-market restaurants across the country have begun to change perceptions about the suitability of Indian cuisine with wine. Nevertheless still finding the perfect wine that goes well with Indian cuisine could be a little complex because there isn’t a single dish in the country that completely encapsulates the richness and diversity of the cuisine. Each delicacy is different and is steeped deeply in the culture and tradition of the region it hails from. As per wine enthusiasts, experts and restaurants there is an exhaustive list of wines that will go beautifully with Indian food.

Expressing her views on the topic, Basu says “I like fresh, slightly sweet white wines with spicy food. Off dry sparkling wines and rose wine with vegetarian thalis. Rose and light reds with kebabs and light curries. Deep mellow reds with biryani, richer mutton curries, dal makhani and palak paneer. Your tryst with wine needs to be continuous and experimental. Allow your palate to guide you.”

Food and wine pairing truly isn’t rocket science, informs Agarwal of All Things Nice. “To begin with all you need is to understand the flavours in your wine; these are most likely written for consumer benefit on the back of the bottle and match them with flavours in your food. You could contrast where possible too.”

Policy bottlenecks
Lack of uniformity in terms of policies and regulatory framework in the country is a major bottleneck for the industry in the country. Wine is still treated as the outsider and does not enjoy all the benefits and luxuries offered to her sibling’s whisky and beer.

“The biggest hindrance to today’s winemakers and to the alcoholic beverage industry in general is the fact that we don’t have a central excise policy and it is a state subject. Registering brands in each state, then registering each label, annually is a nightmare. They don’t make it easy for you. And it’s expensive. A logistical nightmare for even the big players. This makes it very difficult for wines to find themselves in wider markets. Especially the smaller wineries,” says Basu.

“The taxes have not been uniform across the country,” says Chandramohan. Equally, prohibitive is high entry barriers in terms of cost of label registrations, etc. “Across the world the levy on wine as a category is lower than spirits and beer. Furthermore, India’s grape processing facilities are inadequate and feature poor price realisation on produce. There is a lack of infrastructure and adequate research to support the high investment crop. There should be a policy that is benchmarked with other wine producing nations which will not only benefit the wineries but several farmers as well and will lead to a sustainable business environment.”

“Inter-state restrictions and taxations have made wine more expensive. Wine promotion efforts need to be properly channeled, and by an unbiased agency,” suggests Achanta.

Need time to mature
Indian wine industry is in the developing stage and require people with passion and commitment to guide it though to the next level. That requires support from all sides. “Indian wines simply need time to get better. Vines produce better grapes with time as they mature and their roots dig deep to find the flavours of the earth. We need more serious, passionate, homegrown winemakers. This also means a really good school of oenology. We need people who think of their facilities as wineries and not factories. And their owners to have a soul for wine and not just for business,” says Basu.

“I think consistency is the biggest issue. Consistency is not always the fault of the winery but also and most times the fault of the storage conditions of the distributor used and the place in which is it retailed or sold to consumers. The second is that we have too few quality driven wineries therefore the availability of quality wines in terms of range is limited.” says Agarwal.

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