The first-ever ‘Wine Fest & Seminar 2009’ in Bangalore was organised by the Karnataka Wine Board in the sylvan settings of the 240-acre Lalbagh Gardens on July 10 – 12, with just three local wine companies taking part, Grover Vineyards, Naka Spurt, and Kinvah. While a far cry from the affairs we have been witness to in Mumbai and Delhi, this was a significant first step for local wine producers and wine marketing companies, and provides an important precedent for such fairs in future. Alok Chandra reports.
It also allowed the three companies taking part to sell nearly 10,000 bottles of wine to thirsty consumers looking for wines at a discount.
The Karnataka Wine Policy as notified in end-September 2008 made it easier and cheaper to obtain a licence to operate a winery – fees were reduced from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 5,000 per year, and licences are now issued by the Dy. Commissioner of the concerned district instead of having to be referred to the Excise Commissioner. Already some 9 new licences have either been issued or are in the pipeline, and the area under wine grapes in Karnataka has grown from some 600 acres just a few years back to over 1,600 acres today – with most of the new vineyards coming up in the relatively less-expensive districts of Bijapur, Tumkur and Gulbarga.
Another significant positive measure is the policy aimed to encourage wine consumption through the issue of licences to Wine Taverns at a nominal fee of Rs. 1,000 annually – this has already resulted in some 20-odd licences being issued, and many more are expected in the months to come. More recently has come the announcement of Wine Boutiques: retail outlets authorised to sell only wine. Good initiatives that will surely boost wine off take by consumers.
There was a fairly enthusiastic participation in the seminars held on day one, with the bulk of visitors that day being grape farmers from the districts. The presentations were on a galaxy of topics – ranging from technical to marketing to ‘how-to’ matters (eg “How can I obtain a wine tavern licence?”), and some 400 people signed-up with the Wine Board for related follow-up discussions.
It was interesting to get two very diverse opinions, both for and against, on the protectionist measures (a tax of Rs. 300/litre on wine from outside the state) imposed by the new wine policy in October 2008. One school of thought favoured responding in kind if & when Maharashtra reduced it’s own protectionist taxes – on the grounds that in the long term a ‘level playing field’ would help improve standards and expand the size of the cake; the other advocated maintaining a differential tax, saying “let us, too, enjoy for some time”. One hopes that saner counsel prevails – at the end of the day it’s the consumer who should be allowed to decide, and there’s nothing like giving good value in an emerging market like wine.
We look forward to more such events in Bangalore, with wider participation. Since the current vintage is normally ready by September, perhaps there’s scope for two fairs: one targeted at consumers, organised in September; the other for grape growers and wine producers. Kushi! (Kannada for ‘cheers’ or ‘happiness’).
Dr. B. Krishna, MD of the Karnataka Wine Board can be contacted on 9449-90343 or at firstname.lastname@example.org