Participation in the London International Wine Fair is a step forward for Indian wines. In a first ever joint foray overseas, eight Indian wine companies exhibited their wines at an ‘India Pavilion’ at the London International Wine Fair on 18 to 20 May. Alok Chandra is at his informative and insightful best. Pictured is Oz Clarke sampling Four Seasons wine at the India booth at the LIWF.
The companies (and their brands) were Nashik Vintners (Sula), Indage Vintners (Marquise de Pompadour, Chantilli), Renaissance (Renaissance), Mercury (Aryaa), United Spirits (Four Seasons), Vallee du Vin (Zampa), Vintage Wines (Reveilo), and York (York).
The initiative was partly sponsored by the newly formed Indian Grape Promotion Board, which is both espousing the cause of Indian wines and the wellbeing of grape farmers. A good initiative, this is a necessary second step to entering world markets. Pictured are curious visitors sampling Indian wines at the London International Wine Fair.
The first step was the export of Indian wines which, surprising as it may seem, started over 25 years back.
The first Indian wines to be exported were from the first Indian winery – Sham Chougule’s Indage Vintners. Chougule started his ‘Champagne Indage Ltd.’ facility at Narayangaon way back in 1982 in technical collaboration with Champagne Technologie, a division of Piper-Heidsieck. The first bottles of Omar Khayyam, a methode traditionnelle sparkling wine supposedly from classic French Champagne grapes, went overseas in 1985; the wine was launched in 1986 in India as Marquise de Pompadour.
Grover Vineyards was launched in 1992 and Sula (Nashik Vintners) in 1999. Both wine companies soon sought export markets, spurred no doubt by both the need to balance foreign exchange expenditures on imports as mandated by the government as well as the tax benefits on earnings in ‘hard’ currencies. Both companies export the same labels distributed in India: Grover its la Reserve and (now) its Art Series varietals, Sula its eponymous varietals. Both sell in a number of markets. Grover excels in France, Singapore, and the UK, and has found a good response in Japan, while Sula does well in the UK and the USA – and is also doing well in Japan. In the UK Grover distributes its wines through Bibendum, while Sula goes through Hallgarten Druitt, one of the largest UK distributors with over 1,100 wine labels in its portfolio.
The last high point for exports of Indian wines was in 2007/08, when the three companies mentioned above together reported earnings of Rs 11.25 crore (about US$ 2.75 million) – which is tiny, really, but representing a volume of about 840,000 bottles, working out to a rather decent FOB price of about US$ 3.25 per bottle. The next year (2008/09) was when recession hit the industry worldwide and a very different scenario emerged. Indage was melting down, Grover had its own set of quality-related problems, and only Sula’s export earnings grew by 30% to Rs. 218 lakh or about US$ 545,000.
So has participation in the LIWF opened up new markets or opportunities for Indian wines?
Absolutely. The LIWF draws participants and visitors from all over. Exhibiting here has provided the Indian participants the opportunity to meet importers, merchants, agents, restaurateurs, wholesalers, and sommeliers from around the world, and has resulted in a spurt of inquiries for the best wines.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy to find markets overseas – other new world wines offer stiff competition in both price and quality and have a head start in building brand awareness and distribution networks.
However, Indian wines have a strong worldwide ally: Indian cuisine.
The natural entry point for all Indian wines overseas is Indian restaurants, which are even more ubiquitous than Chinese or Italian restaurants are in India. Grover’s wines are served for between £15 and £25 per bottle in restaurants like Chutney Mary, Cinnamon Club or Rasoi Vineet Bhatia. The positioning is simple: Indian wines with Indian food. That’s a terrific advantage – after all, there are no restaurants anywhere for Chilean or Argentinean or Australian food, and so wines from other new world countries had to pretty much start from scratch.
The other advantage Indian vintners have is their experience in managing complexity.
Alcoholic beverages including wine are a state subject in India, and every state has its own rules and regulations, and duties and taxes – it’s like operating in 32 different countries. World markets differ only in distance – entry costs in many Indian markets are comparable (for example, a winery has to spend nearly Rs 15 lakh on licenses and registration fees before it sells a single bottle in Delhi, while differences in language, culture, or habits are something Indians are very used to.
Consequently, entering markets overseas is not very much more difficult (or expensive) than entering a new market in India – and the potential volumes are a lot higher. What really makes the difference is getting hold of a top-flight importer/distributor, and having the foresight to invest in marketing and distribution.
What is interesting is that Indian wines are not selling for low prices: Grover Vineyards’ Art Series Cabernet Shiraz and Art Series Sauvignon Blanc have a retail price of £8.51 in London, more than twice the rate of many supermarket wines from Australia and Chile. Sula’s wines retail for between £6.00 (Sula Mosaic) and £13.00 (Sula Dindori Reserve).
The next few years should be interesting for Indian vintners as they take the next steps in bringing their products to a wider audience. Of course, it will be many years before wines from here make more than a marginal impact overseas – but their export effort will probably help improve the quality of our wines and provide a credible endorsement of the new policies in both the states and the centre.