Wine remains an unexplored drink, but Indians are warming up to it, with events, clubs and establishments slowly promoting the drink.
Indians are typically not known to be wine drinkers, and largely remain unaware of the nuances and subtleties of wine consumption. However, a small but growing community of wine connoisseurs in the country are setting a path for the future of this grape-based alcoholic drink. With wines manufactured in India gaining more strength and new establishments catering to wine lovers, India looks at a growing wine culture.
There has been a growing buzz around wine, with dedicated wine societies in cities such as Mumbai, the capital of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, New Delhi, the capital city of India as well as Kolkata, the capital of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. The Wine Society of India, one such collective in Mumbai hosts wine tasting, appreciation and a ‘Four Seasons Wine Discoveries programme’. They help members discover exceptional quality wines, sourced from vineyards around the world by their Board of Wine Advisors, which is chaired by world-renowned wine authority, Steven Spurrier. Membership of this society is free of cost, but there are other organisations, such as the Calcutta Wine Club in Kolkata, which are far more exclusive. Registered officially in 2008, the Calcutta Wine Club admits membership through invitation only, with no direct requests for membership being entertained.
Most of the wine consumed in India may be manufactured by Indian companies, as the cost of imported wines is extremely high. With high import taxes, levies charged at multiple points and long drawn processes of registration and other such formalities, bringing in wines from outside remains a problem. Sula vineyards, based in Nasik, in the western state of Maharashtra remains a leading Indian wine-making company. Maharashtra and the southern state of Karnataka remain the production centres for wine making in India. Subhash Arora, editor for delWine and India Correspondent of Meininger’s Wine Business International, Germany stated that the business of making wine has potential, but faces a few roadblocks. “As of now, it has not been very profitable. Barring Sula, which has become an international brand and is making marginal profits, the others have been struggling to break-even or make marginal profits. However, there is a profitable venture ahead for many, if the procedures and laws are streamlined,” he explained.
Currently, some of the most popular varietals of wine that are known to Indians are mainly the European ones, with Indian companies taking out wines such as chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz in their reds and whites. Chenin blanc, arguably the most popular white wine varietal in India, takes its roots from the Loire Valley in France. “I personally love Sula’s chenin blanc. But, I must admit that I am completely unaware if there are any Indian varietals being made or not,” says a wine lover and student of literature.
Even with the creation of wines of European and other varietals, Indian brands are establishing a name. As Arora notes, “There are quite a few brands that have created name for themselves in India. Sula, Grover Zampa, Fratelli, York, Four Seasons, Charosa, Raveilo, Chandon, KRSMA and SDU are a few of the labels that I think have carved a niche for themselves,” adding, “However, Sula, Grover Zampa and to some extent Fratelli are recognized as distinct Indian wines.”
Wine in vogue
Wine, mostly associated with upscale parties and special celebrations in India, is yet to establish itself as a common drink. Even as an alcoholic drink, many would argue about its health benefits and dispute the status of hard liquor that wine has been placed into. “More and more people are drinking wine as a drink of choice or at least with food. However, it has still not come out of the ‘fashionable drink’ or a ‘healthy product’ tag and the progress is quite slow, even though things are moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, wine is still lumped with liquor by the government generally with a few exceptions,” said Arora.
In 2014, a study by Vinexpo had revealed that Indian wine consumption was set to grow a staggering 73.5 pc, between 2013 and 2017. The growth of wine culture and consumption years are to be verified officially, but with spaces such as The Wine Company in Delhi and Fratelli Fresh in Mumbai gaining popularity, wine has an exciting future ahead.