On 8 May 2010, the Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB) organized a half-day national level conference to discuss the potential and challenges of the Indian wine industry. The conference brought together representatives from all segments of the industry. Sommelier India Wine Magazine was invited and participated. Reva K. Singh reports.
The National Conference on “The Indian Wine Sector – Potential & Challenges” was inaugurated by Shri Subodh Kant Sahai, Union Minister of Food Processing Industries. The conference which was held in the Banquet Hall of The Ashok Hotel in Delhi was attended by senior Government officials, members of the Indian Grape Processing Board as well as wine producers, grape growers and delegates who had travelled to Delhi from states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. The Conference was a good indicator of how the industry is viewed in official circles and that its problems and challenges are being taken seriously.
In a conservative and traditional society like India’s, the minister stated at the outset, there was no understanding of wine and segregating it from hard liquor had been ‘tough’. But, he added, considerable progress had been made with the UPA government in place in the last five years. “Wine has now come to be accepted in India and the Indian wine industry is acknowledged internationally. This makes me very happy,” he said, while acknowledging the difficulty of competing with older wine producing countries where wine “is a part of their living culture”.
Having been delinked from liquor, and now seen as part of the country’s agronomy, the Indian wine industry is currently facing challenges related to an over-supply of grapes and large quantities of unsold wine. In the current scenario, the plight of the farmers was obviously of concern to the Minister who returned to the question several times reminding the audience that India was an agro-based economy. “Seventy per cent of our population is involved in farming so we need to look into the farmer and grower aspect.”
Judging from the wide range of issues taken up by the speakers at the Conference and the nature of the discussions that continued well beyond the formal session around the lunch table as well, with the minister listening keenly and asking pointed questions of his own, it was clear that solutions are being sought and an action plan put in place. Indeed, Shri Kant repeatedly stated that he wanted to hear concrete suggestions from members of the Industry and ‘stakeholders’.
“Tell me what needs to be done. I need to come out of this Conference with a solution. I need a plan from you that you can sell to the Government of India,” he said.
The immense potential of the Indian Wine Industry was also acknowledged despite the setbacks of the last two years. From the current 1.5 million cases of Indian wine sold, the sale of Indian wine had the potential to reach 10 million cases, it was stated, progressing to 50 million cases and then 100 cases and so on. Considering production levels in other countries, the target should be 400 million cases. Going by the Indian Grape Processing Board brochure, the ultimate goal is for the Indian wine industry to become a global player and world leader by 2020 in accordance with international standards!
The question is can these goals be achieved or is it just a lot of hot air? We can only lobby and wait and watch. With concerted support from the authorities, cooperation between the states and determined Industry effort – backed by the IGPB – the best ideas and recommendations must get implemented before the wine business gets killed by well intentioned muddling, confused or contradictory policies, punitive levies and the host of other issues that continue to plague the industry.