India awakening to wines, but pricing a problem

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NEW DELHI - Wine, a much-loved beverage across the world and a popular accompaniment with food, has not quite been able to win over Indians fully yet. But experts feel it is waiting to explode as a lifestyle product - if priced right.

Just over a million cases of wine are sold annually in India — a country that loves its beer and whisky, which together account for as many as 373 million cases. Even beer that at times is paired with wines accounts for 140 million cases.

“Indians are not averse to wines. It’s just that it’s inaccessible due to the price factor. If the prices come down it would ease the process of familiarisation with the product,” sommelier Magandeep Singh told IANS.

Maharashtra and Karnataka have the ideal climate for vine cultivation and wines of some well-known Indian brands such as Sula, Indage and Grovers are produced there. Among the international ones, more than a thousand brands are popular in India.

So what’s keeping wine out of reach?

“Government policies need to loosen up on customs duties. States have to appreciate the difference between wine and hard liquor to formulate their policies accordingly,” said Subhash Arora, president of the Indian Wine Academy and the Delhi Wine Club.

“Availability has been a big constraint due to government policies,” Arora told IANS.

Another deterrent, he says, is: Hotels and restaurants are not coming forward to bring prices down, making them unaffordable. Prices of top global brands can go up to Rs.25,000. Indian wines though are within reach. A Sula white, for example, is available at Rs.500.

In a letter to President Pratibha Patil after a state banquet for the Obamas, Arora even requested her to consider serving Indian wines to promote the “health beverage” which in moderate consumption is said to be good for the heart and also for diabetics .

“The Indian domestic wine market is a little over a million cases but access to imported ones is inhibited by 160 percent import duty and state levies. If the price is not cut, it is going to remain an elitist and societal drink,” said wine expert Sanjay Menon., a Sydney-based website, released a list of 30 countries, according to which the biggest consumer of wine is Luxembourg at 15.5 litres per capita, followed by France at 14.8 litres.

India doesn’t even feature on the list.

But Delhi-based Kapil Sekhri, co-promoter and director of Fratelli Wines, a Indo-Italian venture, says wine is slowly becoming a lifestyle product.

“We have 600 million people in the age group between 20 and 35. It’s the youngest nation and so even if 10 percent of that convert, that is almost a country in Europe converting to wine,” said Sekhri.

“That’s what the potential holds and that’s why all the wine labels are rushing to India even with such heavy duty structures,” Sekhri, whose company’s vineyard is at Akluj in Solapur district of Maharashtra, about 105 km south of Pune, told IANS here.

Fratelli Wines is a joint endeavour of Italy’s Secci brothers, Andrea and Alessio, the Sekhri brothers — Kapil and Gaurav — and the Mohite-Patil brothers, Ranjitsinh and Arjunsinh.

According to a recent report by the corporate lobby Assciated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), eight percent of the wine demand in India is accounted for by major cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Pune and Bangalore.

While 41 percent of the wine quaffed in India is consumed in the western states, north follows next with 29 percent. The report also said demand for wine is rising in emerging Tier-II and Tier-III cities thanks to working professionals and the younger generation.

“Growth can be faster in smaller cities but enough efforts are not being made. Pune is an example of how wine culture has taken off in a short time. There are dozens of cities like Pune waiting to be explored,” said Arora.

Nashik, called India’s Nepa Valley, is the hub of the Indian wine industry. There are over 50 vineyards in and around the Wine Park in Maharashtra — 22 of them are in and around Nashik alone.

Some feel wine also goes well with Indian food. “Adaptive Indian food is what goes with wine,” said sommelier Magandeep Singh.

“Wine doesn’t have to replace beer or whisky as it has its own place. You don’t consume whisky with food; you have wine. I would say the industry is improving with many rising stars among wine brands.”

Little wonder several Indian and overseas firms are joining the wine bandwagon thanks to business prospects and the low costs of setting up a winery.

Gabriel Ruiz Lopez, chief executive of Grapeland, a Spanish wine company, said: “India is just awakening to wines. People usually buy those which are priced low. But we plan to sell approximately 48,000 bottles of wine in the coming year.”

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