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Wine & Dine

Drink up! Some of the best wine and whiskey labels now come from India

20 Jul , 2017  

Local labels have been consistently upping the ante and have been regularly scooping awards at international wine forums, as they inch their way across the globe.

 

Sayoni Bhaduri

 

An innovative generation of Indian brewers and distillers are raising the bar quite literally, by creating world class premium tipple, which is eminently collectable and quaffable. Earlier this year, Four Seasons Wines, owned by United Spirits, hosted a signature wine experience to release the Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels (a Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend), over a wine paired lunch. With just 1,200 bottles available for purchase, Abhay Kewadkar, Chief Winemaker and Director of the winery said that the wine was meant to be aged and cellared for a few years to reach its optimum drinking potential. A perfect launch to nudge the winery back into the limelight, given its low profile.

 

Four Season Wines’ Abhay Kewadkar released 1,200 bottles of the Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels last year

Four Season Wines’ Abhay Kewadkar released 1,200 bottles of the Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels last year

 

The vino world

India’s wine industry is witnessing a Renaissance. The limelight has predominantly been on producers in Nashik and Bangalore — regions lying at the core of the country’s wine revolution. But our per capita consumption pales in the face of global statistics — each Indian barely consumes one teaspoon of vino. But the expected growth is tremendous as per IWSR and Vinexpo calculations — between 2013 and 2017, wine consumption in the country is expected to increase by 73.5 per cent.

 

Local labels have been consistently upping the ante and have been regularly scooping awards at international wine forums, as they inch their way across the globe. Sula Vineyards is already available in 23 countries, a strategy which has included tie-ups, such as their collaboration with Marks & Spencer to stock a special range named ‘Jewel of Nasik,’ available in three varietals — Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel Rose and Tempranillo Shiraz.

 

India’s largest winery Sula Vineyards recently raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Belgium-based investment holding company Verlinvest

India’s largest winery Sula Vineyards recently raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Belgium-based investment holding company Verlinvest

 

Almost all Indian wineries worth their salt are moving to expand their base of premium wines. The market has seen a proliferation of reserve wine (traditionally wine makers would ‘reserve’ some of their best wine), though the category is unregulated by legislation in India. Reserve simply implies higher quality wine that has been aged. Fratelli Wines’ reserve portfolio includes Sette, a Super-Tuscan style limited edition vintage wine, and in the recent past the winery has introduced the Vitae and MS range. “The decision to introduce more wines in the premium sector was driven by the realisation that we should give more options to our customers,” explains Alessio Secci, Director, Fratelli.

 

Premium packaging and strict quality control has contributed to the popularity of Indian wines

Premium packaging and strict quality control has contributed to the popularity of Indian wines

 

In this segment, most wines are priced around Rs 1,200 and above. The price premium is due to the time intensive wine making process says Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO, Grover Zampa. Strict quality control and premium packaging, according to him, are other factors which make these wines an expensive proposition. With stellar labels such as the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection in their stable, Grover Zampa has a gone a step further with the launch of Insignia — the most expensive Indian wine with a price tag of `5,000. Insignia has been aged for two years in an oak barrel and a year in the bottle, making it the longest-aged Indian wine in the market. It is also a limited edition wine, with only 300 bottles available, out of which 200 are available for purchase by invitation only. This strategy has paid off. Singh Mandla has been quoted in a publication saying that Grover Zampa’s premium segment is growing at a fast clip. Of the 200,000 cases it produced in the past year, the premium segment grew 40 per cent in volume and over 50 per cent in value. He pegs India’s entire vino market to be worth only `1,000 crore, but it is growing 15 per cent annually.

 

Under Sumedh Singh Mandla, Grover Zampa Vineyards is focusing on producing premium wines

Under Sumedh Singh Mandla, Grover Zampa Vineyards is focusing on producing premium wines

 

Sparkling wines too are seeing effervescence, especially after Chandon introduced their Nashik-made sparkling varietals in 2013. Since then, at least five Indian wineries have begun producing about 10 sparkling and rosè sparkling wines. Ceclia Oldne, VP Marketing and Global Brand Ambassador, Sula Vineyards, credits sparkling wine’s popularity to how well it stands in as a substitute for expensive Champagne, Cava and Prosecco.

 

Spirited tales

The Indian spirit industry has been no slouch either. Bangalore-based distillery Amrut’s stupendous success with whiskies is evident that there is a huge demand for premium and authentic Indian spirits. The challenge was huge, says Thrivikram G Nikam, Executive Director, Brands and PR for Amrut. John distilleries’ Paul John collection is also exceptional. The newest entrant in the Indian single malt space is Rampur Single Malt Whisky, from the house of Radico Khaitan, produced at India’s oldest distillery, the Rampur Distillery, which was originally set up in 1943.

 

Rampur Indian Single Malt Whisky is distilled in traditional copper pot stills and matured at the Rampur Distillery

Rampur Indian Single Malt Whisky is distilled in traditional copper pot stills and matured at the Rampur Distillery

 

The progression towards quality spirits is not limited to whisky — other categories are also following suit, such as Janus brandy (a 100 per cent grape brandy) and Wild Tiger rum. Janus brandy, which is distilled in Baramati and bottled in Goa by Sula Vineyards, was to be launched in partnership with Remy Cointreau. But after the French company’s exit from India, the execution fell on Sula, which has also introduced another expression of the brandy, ‘J.’ “Premiumisation is the order of our industry in the past few years. The rise in disposable income in metro cities and our changing lifestyles is responsible for this growth. The increasing demand for better quality is also boosting demand,” says Deepak Bhatnagar, President, Sales and Marketing —Sula Vineyards.

 

Janus, a 100 per cent grape brandy is distilled in Baramati and bottled in Goa by Sula Vineyards

Janus, a 100 per cent grape brandy is distilled in Baramati and bottled in Goa by Sula Vineyards

 

Excluding Janus, a majority of premium Indian spirits first forayed into the international market before making inroads into India. Gautom Menon, Founder, Wild Tiger Rum rues that only after a product has been acknowledged and applauded abroad does the Indian market become easier to crack. Amrut, Paul John and Rampur all launched in the west initially. Menon’s focus too is the international market. He has built a market for the molasses-based and cane juice spirit blend in the UAE and the rum has become a best seller on Tiger Airways!

 

Amrut is India’s first premium single malt whisky that is produced locally in Bangalore

Amrut is India’s first premium single malt whisky that is produced locally in Bangalore

 

With higher margins and low incremental costs, the premium market is attractive, but in order to really make a visible dent, producers need to scale up that quality and sell volumes, ensuring widespread availability and visibility in India’s challenging marketplace.

 

 

 

 

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