Wine Clubs In India, everything you need to know

A Wine Club is a collection of like-minded (dare I say wine-minded?) people brought together to understand and appreciate wine and all that goes with it: wine and food, wine and music, wine and art, wine and travel, etc.

Broadly, Wine Clubs in India fall into two categories: Clubs with paid membership, which are consequently restricted to members, and virtual Clubs, which don’t charge entry fees and hence have no limit to the number of people on the mailing list. The former tend to have been established some years back and so have an older member-profile (age 50+), while the latter are more recent and cater to “millennials” and younger age groups.

Since the last time I wrote about Wine Clubs in India ten years ago in this magazine, some clubs are still here, some have fallen by the wayside, while a few new ones have come up in places where one wouldn’t have thought there was the potential for a wine club. All this, plus the background of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown of on-premise establishments and the cessation of ‘live’ sessions everywhere, I’ve been able to track down 14 functioning Wine Clubs.

Ranjit Gupta (standing) with Jug and Bunny Suraiya at a pre-pendemic Wine Society dinner at Mesa Wina Bisto in Aerocity. New Delhi

THE WINE SOCIETY, DELHI
The grand-daddy of wine clubs in India, The Wine Society, Delhi was started by Ghulam Naqshband in 1997 as the “Table de France”. It enjoyed the patronage of the French Embassy and their French wines till 2001 when its name was changed to The Wine Society. It was also when a wider range of wines from different countries became available with de-regulation of the import of alcoholic beverages into the country.

Currently, they have a membership of about 100, and were holding six to eight wine dinners annually till the pandemic hit in March 2020; their first event in 12 months was held on 10 March 2021 at the Mesa Wine Bistro, Aerocity, for 32 participants. Membership requires an invitation from an existing member and is subject to approval by the Committee, with nominal entry fees and annual charges. President Kulbir ‘Bunty’ Singh can be reached at president@thewinesocietydelhi.in .

THE DELHI WINE CLUB
This was started in mid-2002 by wine aficionado Subhash Arora who organised the DWC’s 300th event on 13 January 2020 at Pullman Aerocity, when he also handed over charge to Sourish Bhattacharya (sourishb1963@gmail.com) after an amazing 18-year stint as head of this Club. Subhash continues to run his consultancy, Indian Wine Academy, whose newsletter delWine (www.delwine.com) is said to go out to some 33,000 subscribers worldwide. The DWC has about 150 members, and its website (www. delhiwineclub.com) reflects its eclectic nature and the wide range of interests and opinions of its founder Subhash.

CALCUTTA WINE CLUB
The CWC got going in 2008 with just 12 founder members, growing to 50 in 2009 and now has 110 members. There’s a steep joining fee (Rs. 25,000) and annual membership fees. Regarding new members, President Anil Vaswani (anil.vaswani@wesman.com) says that “as long as candidates enjoy wine and are willing to learn more, that’s good enough for us.”

Uniquely the CWC has undertaken two overseas tours, to South Africa in 2018 and Croatia/Slovenia in 2019, and were planning to visit Spain and Portugal in 2020 when the pandemic scuttled all travel. Not to be deterred, they’ve held four online tastings from August to November 2020, re-started live sessions from December 2020, and held their 12th Grand Annual Wine-paired Dinner in
February 2021.

The Bangalore Wine Club Committee, left to right: Nitish Gulhati, Lisa Pinto, Vikram Udaygiri, Irfan Vazirally and Chetan Kamani

THE BANGALORE WINE CLUB
This was started in January 2002 by me and six friends following a party at co-founder Nina Kanjirath’s place in December where Rajeev Samant of Sula landed up with an armful of the first Sula wines being launched! It is run by a Committee elected annually from existing members. Each Committee brings its own energy and ideas to refresh the BWC’s operations.

The BWC currently has 116 members, and held nine events in 2019-20, each with between 60 and 85 participants). During the pandemic they organised three virtual wine events, with the food and wines delivered to the homes of participants Their first live event was held on 11 February 2021 at the Leela Palace hotel in association with Torres wines from Spain.

Again, membership requires referral by existing members and is subject to approval of the current Committee, with entry charges and annual fees. The BWC is compliant with all existing laws (Registrar of Societies and the IT Department). Contact the President at irfanvazirally@gmail.com.

ROTARIAN’S WINE FELLOWSHIP OF INDIA

This is confined to Rotarians from Bangalore Rotary District 3190, and was started in 2007 by Devesh Agarwal to bring wine to fellow-Rotarians (most of whom are more partial to other libations). Not only has the RWFI thrived — membership has grown from 40 in 2009 to 90 today — they held two virtual events during the lockdown and a live event on 23 January 2021 at the Taj MG Road Bangalore, for 75 members, with Grover-Zampa wines. In true Rotary spirit, they raised over Rs 500,000 with these three events, which is earmarked to help those affected by the Cowin-19 virus.

TERROIR – THE MADRAS WINE CLUB
You read it right – it’s still called Madras Wine Club (not Chennai) ever since its launch in 2009. Current president, Minnie Menon (minniemenon2010@gmail.com) has been busy with virtual events during the pandemic, and organised their first live event on 19 December 2020 at the Taj Coromandel with Australian wines.

NAGPUR WINE LOVERS CLUB
The indefatigable Sharad Phadnis (ngpwineclub@gmail.com) got this going in 2011. It’s now 300-strong and accepts only life members at Rs 30,000 a pop. Sharad is very active on social media, and believes in promoting only Indian wines at the Nagpur Wine Club events.

BANGALORE WINE TRAILS
Started in 2019 by Tanushree and Anoop, a husband-wife duo, BWT (www. bangalorewinetrails.com) is “a platform for wine-curious, experience-seeking individuals”, focusing on Karnataka wines at restaurants, and claims 500+ millennials as members.

HYDERABAD WINE SOCIETY AND BANGALORE WINE SOCIETY
Both of these are for-profit ventures started by Hyderabad-based ex-sommelier Suryaveer Singh (suryaveer77@gmail.com) who, along with his father and ex hotelier Veer Vikram Singh, runs Trance, a hotel management consultancy. The HWS has been around since 2017 and since its inception has held some very high-end events, including sold- out dinners at the Taj Falaknuma Palace at Rs 10,000+ per head. The BWS held their first live event at the ITC Gardenia on 20 February 2021 with 35 participants.

COIMBATORE WINE SOCIETY
Initiated by Charles Fabian of the Residency Towers Hotel (charlesfabian@theresidency. com), the Coimbatore Wine Society kicked off with 14 founding members in 2019. The president and secretary are Vardarajan, owner of Rajshree Sugars & Chemicals, and Varsha Chawla, respectively.

INTERNATIONAL WINE AND FOOD SOCIETY
The International Wine and Food Society was established in Mumbai in June 2006 by Nihal Kaviratne, who whilst selling toothpaste and detergents around the world for Unilever picked up the wine habit. He is a member of the St James’s branch in London and was instrumental in re-introducing the IWFS to India after a 50-year absence. Rahul Akerkar, who is arguably India’s most celebrated chef, was studying Chemical Engineering at Columbia University in the US when he discovered his true calling working his way through the kitchens of many a famed New York chef for pocket money. The trio was completed by Sanjay Menon who pioneered the import of fine wine to the country and thinks of himself as the country’s biggest oenophile. Ajit Singh, the next president, along with a few others were invited to join the Branch as founding members. Chintamani Kaigaonkar is the current president (ck.iwfs@chintamanis.in).

The IWFS Mumbai prides itself on arranging the greatest wine dinners in the country, with members pooling their own resources to source and share wines; laying an equal emphasis on great food by engaging the top culinary talent in the country, ensuring accurate pairing and bringing top Indian and international talent to grace the Society’s events; and finally, maintaining strict and transparent governance ensured by a highly respected, professional managing committee.

SI WINE CIRCLE AND SUPPER CLUB
An initiative of Sommelier India Wine Magazine, the SI Women’s Wine Circle — the first of its kind in the Capital — was established in 2013 as an exclusive club for women interested in wine. It has since metamorphosed into the Sommelier India Wine Circle and Supper Club with membership open to men, since so many expressed an interest in joining the Circle.

The aim of the SI Wine Circle is to demystify wine and help men and women grow in the appreciation of wine and food in an informal, social setting. The Wine Circle offers members an opportunity to learn from each other and visiting experts or winemakers with themed lunches and dinners, regular tastings, and wine appreciation sessions. Developed exclusively for the discerning wine and food enthusiast, membership to the Circle is through referrals and by invitation. The only fee charged is an annual subscription to Sommelier India magazine. (Email team@sommelierindia.com)

In the last 10 years the following clubs were discontinued — Chandigarh Wine Club; Bombay Wine Club; The Wine Society of India; ITALICS Wine Club; and the Pune Gourmet Club. So, there you have it: Wine Clubs in India as of March 2021. Lack of space constrains me from doing justice to the immense time and effort that must go into sustaining each organisation – I am sure the numbers will grow along with the demand for wine, wine education, and wine appreciation. May the tribe increase!