Two great days of wine, food and fun that should definitely be marked on your calendar. For far too long, wine in India has been placed on a pedestal and seen as an aspirational beverage, only drunk by Page 3 folks or wine clubs you can never join. The Pune Wine Festival, now in its fourth year, is a tribute to ordinary folk. According to a wine company executive, 80% are first time wine drinkers, reports Vikram Achanta for Sommelier India.
Pictured, the Army Marching Band
Sula, Grover’s and Indage, the best known names in the Indian wine industry are missing, but there were many new entrants into the industry present, as indicated by the names on the gazebos dotting the lawn: Riona, Vallonne, Reveilo, Vinsura, Four Seasons, York, Zampa, Pause, Fratelli & Nine Hills. All inviting you to sample their wines.
Several companies are in their second or even third year of production and – helped by a growing maturity in wine production – are making very good, drinkable wine. So good in fact that they’re running out of it. The companies expect to sell between Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 worth of wine each, over the two days of the festival, and by the start of the second day, stocks are being hurriedly replenished.
The brainchild of a few members of the Pune Gourmet Club, who have set up an enterprise called Monsoon Winds, it’s now grown into arguably the largest wine festival in India, drawing more than 2,500 consumers over the two days. Sleepy Pune, best known as a retirement city, home to Osho and Shrewsbury biscuits, has blossomed into India’s wine fest capital.
Pictured, a display of wines
Rs 400 at the gate gets you a wine glass (and more); grip it firmly in your hand, and enter the Rohi Villa palace to start tasting. The companies are generous with their pour, and 50 ml as the obligatory measure can often stretch upwards. Plus, the good thing about wine is that it’s sacrilegious for a wine company to make only one wine, and any company worth its salt, offers at least five wines to taste. There are 15 stalls; do the math. All you have to do is act knowledgeable, and be able to pronounce at least a couple of grape types, and they’ll keep pouring.
Strictly speaking, what you actually get is a limited set of coupons with your wine glass at the gate, which you proffer in exchange for your tasting. But luckily, this rule is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. As Shankar, one of the guiding lights of the festivals says, “The wine companies realize that creating visibility at the consumer
level is very important, and that generous sampling is key to driving awareness, a taste for the brand and sales.” What’s more, to further the cause of consumer visibility, the wine companies also aggressively spend money before and at the festival, putting out print advertising, sponsoring of the obligatory grape stomp – and even an Army band!
The carnival atmosphere is complete, and the great thing is that the festival has drawn all age groups, from the very young to the very old. As Abhay Kewadkar, of UB’s Four Seasons wines, says, “In which other liquor category, would you find this kind of festive atmosphere?”
Ashwin Deo, former MD of Moet Hennessy India, reflected earlier while discussing his plans to launch a range of wines, “With wine, it’s about the good times. I don’t expect people to remember the bottle of wine they’ve drunk, or the rack of lamb which went with it, but what they will remember is the good time they had with their friends.”
The Army Marching Band is up on stage, with burly turbaned trumpeters clutching delicate glasses of wine in their hands. Shankar rushes around with two lobsters in his hands, which you can eat anyway you like at the Pune Gourmet Club’s seafood barbeque stall. There are also kebabs, biryani, shawarma and more. And for the sweet toothed, some awesome gelato from Tiamo and great cookies from the Cookie Czar. Healthy kya? Green Tokri with its range of salads beckons.
It’s the complete package that makes it swing. For a category as niche as wine, running a festival which is high-minded in its leanings would be a recipe for disaster. So apart from the wine tasting, there’s the grape stomping in the corner, cookery shows, wine appreciation from the Tulleeho Wine Academy, and retail therapy in the form of the Big Bag Theory’s funky T-shirts and coasters along with Dozo’s wine merchandise.
It’s the oldest wine gag in the world: “I like cooking with wine, and sometimes, I even add it to the dish”, but on the side of a simple cloth bag from Big Bag Theory, it screams, reach out and buy me, and I do. At the entrance are stalls selling some nice watercolours, and Black Grape Holidays, a tour operator focusing on wine holidays in India and overseas.
For an industry, which has been through its fair share of rough times, the Pune wine festival is a coming out party, and Monsoon Winds wants to take it national. For the first time, foreign wines are a part of the mix, and Jacob’s Creek is available as is a range imported by Kiara wines
At 6 pm, on the final day, as the wine companies slowly start running out of wine, the band starts tuning up on the stage, and I know that the Indian wine industry is here to stay.