A 2009 Wish list for the Indian Wine Industry

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wishlist1.jpg What has 2008 taught the Indian wine industry and what does 2009 have to offer? As we talk to Indian wine consumers everyday and exchange notes with peers in the industry a few themes have bubbled to the surface. This look may be hard but is, we believe, a necessary one for the industry to grow and provide better wine, value and service to Indian consumers. Share your opinions as well. Your voice counts. Shiv Singh reports.


2008 has been an eventful year for the Indian wine industry. New wines have landed on our shores, Indian wines have improved, hotels and restaurants have expanded their lists and wine clubs have gotten more popular. Consumers are drinking more wine than ever, but the tragic events in Mumbai and the global meltdown has put a damper on what could have been a phenomenal year.
So what does 2009 have in store for the industry? Here is our wish list for what we believe needs to happen for wine in India to continue growing at the pace it should and become a genuine part of Indian culture. Let us know if you have other ideas.
1. Uniform and lower taxes. Let’s sort this out once and for all. We’re all sick and tired of the tax saga between the various states in India and the relationship with the WTO. A uniform excise tax is a necessity. One that doesn’t just fill the State and Central government coffers but also puts better wines in the hands of consumers at more affordable prices. It’s time for change and we need to take a leaf out of Hong Kong’s playbook and eliminate more of the taxes. Maharashtra, are you listening? The current tax regime is Byzantine!
2. More wines by the glass. The wine drinking culture will only take off when more affordable wines are available by the glass. This can be difficult to do in this economy but it is much needed. Wine novices will only appreciate the differences between wines when we compare our glass of wine to our companion’s. Being forced to buy a bottle each time limits our learning. Hotels and restaurants must offer more wines by the glass. We consumers will reward them with loyalty.
3. Red wine, white wine coaching. We must do more to educate consumers about wine. We’ve all done our bit, but more is required. Here’s one area to focus on – the waiters at restaurants and hotels. When asked what wine they are serving, many still reply red wine and white wine as if that’s more than enough information anyone would want. The sales staff at the retail outlets are rarely much better informed. In fact, they are worse. We need to do more to educate them. The lack of basic knowledge is downright embarrassing. And judging by the volume of comments on the Sommelier India blog, despite the Managements efforts, hospitality professionals are begging for more education.
4. Responsible reporting. Higher journalistic standards must come into wine reporting as this segment grows. It is easy to get caught up in the cycle of showering praise or criticizing a hotel, a restaurant or a wine producer without complete or accurate facts or without attributing a source. Invariably, the offended party recoils at first, only to wine and dine the reporter or industry professional to make sure there’s no criticism the next time round. The net result – the reporter gets a free dinner and feels important, the establishment perhaps fairly (though often unfairly) gets its reputation tarnished and the consumer is confused.
5. Humility and professionalism. Along those lines, humility and professionalism matter too. The Indian wine ecosystem of producers, importers, journalists, consultants, sommeliers, restaurateurs and hospitality executives have all benefited from the wine boom. That’s good but it mustn’t come with arrogance. The rest of the economy is suffering (granted so is the wine industry now) and the way we act influences how the rest of the wine world across the globe thinks of us. We must be the absolute best ambassadors for India – humble and professional but still confident. Even more humble and professional than we’ve been in the past.
6. Better retail outlets. Restaurants in India have metamorphosed in the last 20 years. Today, in every major city you find restaurants (and not only those in hotels) that match the standards of professionalism, cuisine, ambience and style, of leading restaurants elsewhere in the world. That very same metamorphosis needs to come to the wine retail outlets. The Wine & Beer Shops as we know them must be replaced once and for all. We recognize this change is difficult considering commercial real estate prices but it’s needed in order for wine to be better stored and retailed. What might also be a good idea is for wine producers to pull their wines off the shelves of retailers who do not store them in the right conditions and sell the unsuspecting consumer bad wine.
7. Wine Shows that work. Every year we seem to get complaints from international producers and even from some local ones about the number of visitors at the wine shows. Basically the problem is that the market is still small and the question is are there too many shows for a fledgling market? International producers invariably go home disappointed but hoping their investment will reap benefits in the future. IFE in December had mixed results, IndSpirit hardly had much of a wine presence and it remains to be seen how successful IFOWS will be next week. There either needs to be more consolidation or simply better value propositions. The answer may lie in making these trade shows more consumer friendly.
8. A wine style for India. As the international wine experts noted at the Sula tasting recently (see Alok Chandra’s article), it is time for Indian wines to develop an Indian style. A signature style that can be uniquely identified as Indian and that puts the country’s wine on the global map. Until that happens, wine exports will be paltry in comparison to other countries. The wine industry is still in its infancy and this is a tall order but the producers can (as some are) take the right steps to organically create the Indian style. It is waiting to happen.
What do you think of our wish list? Do you agree or disagree? Are there other wishes that you’d like to add to the list? Join the conversation and tell us what you think. Your opinion matters.

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6 Comments

  1. This is very good list. If the tax structure is put in place it will be better for India.

  2. Very thought provoking. My own biggest wish is that we had boutique wine stores in Delhi where I could discuss the wine with the storekeeper before buying it, or get his/her informed suggestions for the best wine to serve at a dinner party with, say, Chinese food, or which wines make good hostess gifts. A place where I could browse like I do in a book store, and perhaps even taste the wine before buying it!

  3. Thank you for your feedback. You’re right along with better retail outlets we need better service at them too. They also need to be places of education akin to the large wine retailers in New York and London. It’ll take time but hopefully we’ll get there soon.

  4. This is really very good. I want to start a business in importing wines and the advice is helpful. I also have offers from many Italian wineries but I don’t know the procedures for importing wines. Does anyone have advice?

  5. This is a perfect wish list for the Indian wineries. The winery retail store is the best way to promote the wines and is done all over the world. Indian wines are capable of giving competion to any other market if we get promote our wines in a better way.

  6. Senthil Kulandhaisamy on

    Well thought wish list, lets keep fingers crossed. The start will have to be with front line staffs, to educate, recommend and advice on wines. WSET & CMS should expand more chapters in India. Maybe Hotels should have dedicated sommeliers for their specality restaurants.

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