Vin Opera plays a different tune…

operarange1a.jpg An Australian vacation, 17 acres of vineyards in the Nashik valley and Italian wine imported into India under a local label – Vikash Gupta, Director, Vinner Enoteca Pvt. Ltd., tells Avininder Singh how he got into the wine business.

AVININDER SINGH: So, Vikash, how does a nice guy like you get into a tough business like this? What was the starting point?
VIKASH GUPTA: A family vacation to Australia in December 2005 first exposed me to Australian wines. It was a pleasure trip with a bunch of friends and we really binged out on some superb wines. I came back to India and developed withdrawal symptoms. We couldn’t get decent wines and what was good was too expensive. This prompted me to speak to three other friends, Anand Khattar, Sanjay Bansal, Vipul Nanda, to go into wine production on our own.
What made you think you could go into wine production in India?
One of us in the group has land at Nashik and since we wanted to set up our own winery and make our own wines in India, we spoke to a bunch of consultants and realized just how ignorant we were! But we had been bitten by the bug of doing something new and creative. So we thought that if we couldn’t produce quality wines in India right away, why not source them from abroad?
How did you decide on Italian wines?
We actually looked at various geographical locations and decided we wanted to do Old World Wines. Italy has always been a wine powerhouse. We were also strongly influenced by Italy’s cultural ethos. Moreover, we were very clear; we wanted to import wines under our own label and we got the best support in Italy.

opera2.jpg How come you thought of your own label and why a joint venture?
We wanted to selectively import good quality Italian wine, at attractive pricing, blended to suit the Indian palate and climate. The four wines that we are currently importing are sourced from four different producer-partners. This needs to be very well coordinated in Italy, so a JV was the obvious solution.

What made you choose names like Vinner Enoteca and Vin Opera?
Vinner was our contribution; Enoteca came from our Italian partners – Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna. When naming our brand we wanted something simple, to the point and with good recall value that reflected the Italian ethos and culture. What could be more suitable than Opera, considering it is as much a national obsession as wine? And therefore, Vin Opera!
How did you pick the wines in your current portfolio?
This was a really extensive exercise – we spent over a year at this! First, our partners came to India, lived with us for a fortnight, saw our lifestyles, our food, tasted our domestic wines. They determined what would be right for India. We then went to Vinitaly 2007 at Verona and tasted literally hundreds of wines. From this a shortlist of 70 was reduced further to 12 and then the final 4. Our present portfolio has a holistic range and covers a sparkling, white, red and, of course, a Chianti, which is also red. It was a very satisfying exercise.
When did you enter the Indian market? Where are the wines currently available?
Our first consignment arrived in October 2007. Currently, Opera wines are available in Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh. Since November 2007 to end-June 2008, we were present in about 50 outlets, both hospitality and retail. By end-September 2008, we expect to be in 150 outlets and hope to break even by 2010. This is not a business that has any set parameters; no rule of thumb to go by. We need to be patient and really nurse this baby. It helps that we are all successful entrepreneurs.
How did you introduce Vin Opera to the market?
Our strategy was – and is – to invite outlets for tasting presentations where well-known experts present our wines. Over the last eight or nine months we have had 20 such shows with an average of 15 outlets per show. This has worked for us.
Do people now recognize the name, Vin Opera? Was there any confusion because of a local label being bottled in Italy?
We feel that in the last half year or more we have made significant progress… of course, we have miles to go as yet. There were a few questions asked initially about bottling in India, but now most people are aware that the wine is Italian, bottled in Italy, under an Indian label.
What do you consider your USP?
Our Italian connection, the JV and our Indian label. Our Italian partners have ensured that there will be no slip in quality. Also, our initial price range is very affordable. This has made a strong statement about value-for-money.
What has been the toughest part?
The toughest part without a doubt has been the whole infrastructural process. A container despatched from Florence in Italy to reach us in Delhi takes all of three months and God alone knows what treatment the wines suffer in this period!
And what is the most satisfying?
Acceptance. Almost without exception, people who have tasted the Vin Opera range have appreciated our wines. Today, we are present in well-known outlets like Tabula Rasa, Casbah and Kylin in Delhi and Crowne Plaza, Bristol, Epicenter and The Vatika Group in Gurgaon.
I believe you are already growing grapes at your vineyards in Nashik – when do you plan a domestic wine? And isn’t 17 acres a rather small acreage for this purpose?
Well, the present 17 acres will house our home farm, our winery and a small resort. We are consolidating another 100 acres for our vineyards. This will take time since our present focus is on the Italian scenario but we will be moving forward.
And what do you think the future holds?
Hopefully, more and more acceptance with a pan-India presence. More wines, even better wines, attractive pricing. The sky is the limit.
1. Chianti Rufina DOCG. Riserva 2001. Duty Paid Price Rs. 930
2. Lambrusco Grassparora di Castelvetro DOC. Amabile 2007. DPP Rs. 511
3. Pignoletto Emilia 2007. DPP Rs. 511
4. Sangiovese di Romagna DOC. Superiore 2007. DPP Rs. 511
All prices are at retail shops in Gurgaon before VAT and CESS, which adds 21.33% to the DPP shown.

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